Peace Corps Videos

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Breaking a Tongan Taboo

The Ha’apai island group is a quiet place and perhaps one of the more traditional places in Tonga.   It’s a place where families are strong and the values are traditional.   On the main island, there is just one restaurant, one bank and a few shops.

Even during the middle of the “work week” you can walk down the main street and never see a car and only pass a few people.

That changes on most Saturdays.  Saturday morning is time for people to gather at the small market on the edge of town.   It’s not just a place for buying and selling but a place to hang out and be entertained with traditional Tongan songs and dances.


Like most places in Tonga, you won’t see men and women dancing together and even families tend to segregate themselves by sex as they browse the market and converse with each other. 


I’m guessing this way of life has existed for many years.   On a recent Saturday in late December, that all changed thanks to the appearance of six of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers at the market.

The volunteers are traveling around Tonga in an effort to educateTongans about AIDS.   Since talking about sex in mixed company is a big Tongan Taboo, just imagine how hard it must be to discuss something like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases to a mixed group of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandparents and infants. 


To educate the Tongans, the volunteers, who all live on the main island of Tongatapu, decided to write a skit and then lip-synch it in Tongan.   By US standards, this skit would be “G” rated.  Nothing it it would even be considered inappropriate for even he youngest Americans. 

But this isn’t America and as I watched and listened to the skit being performed, I was almost as interested in the reactions by the Tongans as I was to the the performance.

At first, you could see that Tongans were just being polite, paying attention to the volunteers who were putting on a skit for them.  But the crowd quickly turned quiet once the full impact of what was being discussed sunk in.  I’m not sure if it was because they were paying such close attention or because they were in shock.  I have to think his was probably the first time most of these people had ever heard a topic like AIDS discussed in public.

It was also interesting to notice that NO ONE moved during the performance.  Everyone just watched with poker faces.

IMG_1648 IMG_1649IMG_1658  IMG_1654

At the end, there was polite applause and the crowd quickly went back to normal.   The entire presentation was done in a very culturally sensitive way, but the topic itself was certainly not culturally appropriate for the crowd.  I think this is one of the challenges that Peace Corps volunteers can face, especially when talking about something like AIDS.  It’s important to be sensitive to the culture, but sometimes, you have to break down traditional taboos in order to get the message across.  I really commend Alexis, Andrew, Emily, Enrique, Bobby and Alicia for their efforts to increase AIDS awareness in Tonga.   They did a great job putting this together and hopefully their efforts will help.

There are a couple of side notes to this topic.  No one really knows how big of an issue AIDS is in Tonga.  There have been a handful of documented AIDS cases but testing doesn’t exist and when someone dies, the cause of death is usually just listed as “sick”. There really is no way to accurately know how many people have AIDS.

Another interesting note, when the “AIDS Road show” volunteers arrived in Ha’apai, they went to check out the supply at condoms at the local health office.  They were all old and expired. 

The volunteers have different versions of their skis, some geared to all female audiences and others to all male audiences.   While I didn’t see those, I’m guessing those are a little bit easier than the performance they gave at the market in Ha’apai.


Back in the USA

I’m vacationing at my home in Florida and will return to Tonga January 8th.  

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Big Fire in Vava'u

A big fire in Neiafu destroyed a number of businesses last week. I'm in the USA and not Tonga at the moment, but thought you might like to see the story below from Matangi Tonga Online.

I know many of the people who owned these businesses and have done work for two of them during my time in Peace Corps.

Neiafu fire photos, courtesy Viliami Muna.

A SECOND big fire to hit Neiafu within a month, destroyed a block of the central shopping area of the small town this afternoon.

Fanned by a breeze the fire spread rapidly through at least eight small businesses on the seaward side of the main street. It is thought that the fire started outside of the buildings on the seafront area.

Neiafu blaze seen from across the harbour. Photo by Jeff Le Strange.

Neiafu's main street a tangle of roofing iron and embers. Photo by Jeff Le Strange.

Destroyed by fire today, a rear view of Neiafu's Bounty Bar (left) and O.G. Sanft Building (right) pictured earlier this year.

The Neiafu fire brigade received the call at 3:18 pm and confirmed that the fire gutted all the buildings from the Teta Tours and Airlines Tonga offices, including the Bounty Bar all the way to the O.G. Sanft Building, but stopped short of the Tonga Development Bank's cement building and a new development next to it that had a cement fire wall in place.

Ketiola Lolohea, of the Neiafu Western Union Office, said that fanned by the wind the fire spread rapidly through the roofs of the old timber buildings and threatened to spread across the road to the new ANZ Bank and her offices but the fire brigade bulldozed a small building on the corner to stop the fire from spreading further.

She said that the O.G. Sanft Building - one of the oldest commercial buildings in Neiafu, as well as an auto parts store, the Guttenbeil handicrafts shop and nightclub, the Friendly Islands Bookshop, Kelly's Store, Lita Store, the Bounty Bar, Airlines Tonga, and Samiu Vaipulu's offices were destroyed.

Other businesses destroyed were Arnotts wine and Digicel cards store, Grey's Bottle Store. Salesi Paea's bar as well as the Kalia Bar and the Otu Moi Plumbing Store.

"The police got everyone out of the buildings so no-one was hurt," said Ketiola.

The fire appeared to have spread from the direction of the O.G. Sanft Bldg. and Guttenbeils' shops.

Earlier, on November 13 a fire destroyed the administration and entertainment block of Neiafu's Paradise Hotel.

Fire destroys the buildings opposite the ANZ Bank at right was

Firemen extinguish the fire in Neiafu.

A crowd gathers on Neiafu's Hala Fatafehi with Tonga Development Bank visible in the distance.

Pictured left, with green roofs, the row of small shops that were gutted formed a large part of the Neiafu business centre.

Neiafu's main street with Bounty Bar at the right.

Copyright © Vava'u Press Ltd. 2005. Permissions apply or fax (676) 24749

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Tongan Paradox

For the past several months I've been corresponding with some business students at the University of Colorado about Tonga and Peace Corps. They were assigned to me by their professor. The students have just completed the case study which is below.

They have fictionalized some of the details (like my name, former job, etc) but I think they've done a good job of capturing some of the issues in Tonga.

I hope you enjoy reading their work.

The Tongan Paradox

Disclaimer: Sam Battan and Andrew Venclovas prepared this case study under the direction of instructor Francy Milner, as the basis for discussion and training, not to illustrate either effective or ineffective approaches to a problem or project.


It was five o’clock in the evening when Edward finally got the call from the Peace Corps’ South Pacific placement officer. After a multitude of headaches from the application process had been resolved, it was finally time to tell his boss that he would soon be leaving his long time position at a major consulting firm to go spend time as a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV), assisting with business development in the Kingdom of Tonga. On the long commute over the bridge into New Jersey, Edward couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by all of the uncertainty that he would soon be facing. Once finally home, Edward had to express his excitement, “I can’t wait for the opportunity to help a developing country realize its potential!”

At the very same time, 8,000 miles away in a small village on the island of Vava’u, Tonga, Mele was preparing lunch for her six children in their humble island cottage. Mele’s family didn’t make enough money to save any, but still lived a very happy and well-nourished life. Mele and her husband were educated through the twelfth grade, and their kids attended a respectable public school. They never went hungry because they ate what they produced on their two-acre farm. What material possessions they couldn’t afford were usually given to them by family or neighbors in the village, or sent from Mele’s uncle, who lived and worked in New Zealand. However, Mele’s village had recently been living without some of the main food staples such as bread and milk, because the local general store had not gotten a shipment of supplies from Tongatapu, the Kingdom’s capital, for almost two weeks. For some reason, the boat that usually drops off supplies just didn’t appear. Mele was a rational thinker, and she pondered, “What if I could open up a general store of my own? More stores on this island ought to make the chance of this happening again much less.” Although this was just a thought, months later Mele and a then-unknown PCV named Edward would realize this goal.


The Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago located in the South Pacific Ocean consisting of 176 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. There are approximately 101,901 people living in Tonga, with about two thirds of that population inhabiting the main island of Tongatapu. Estimates show that the nation has been inhabited for over 3,000 years, with vast cultural shifts attributed to foreign interaction. As part of a subtropical climate, Tonga experiences warm temperatures from December to May, cooler temperatures from May to December and has extremely rich, fertile soil, which accounts for its abundance of crops including coconuts, vanilla beans, and bananas. [8]

The Kingdom of Tonga is a constitutional monarchy and is the only island nation in the region to formally avoid colonization. Tonga is a quiet nation that is relatively isolated, with a political structure divided among the king, the nobles, and the commoners. Recently, there has been increasing pressure on Tonga from Australia and New Zealand to westernize and abandon the deeply entrenched Tongan culture. Some fear that this interference will break-down cultural traditions and deep extended families. [2] [5]

Tonga’s economy depends in large part on the remittances from other nations where Tongan nationals reside. Most of the inflow of foreign aid comes from Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., which accommodates over half the registered citizens of Tonga. Rural natives primarily rely on agriculture, which makes up 30% of total GDP. The remaining portions of the GDP include various services and industries like telecommunications, most of which are owned by the Tongan government. In fact, the government operates seventeen different State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), which accounted for 45% of total GDP in 2007. Some critics believe that the “large, underperforming public sector is holding back the growth of the economy both directly and indirectly.”[5] [6]

Tonga’s isolated island culture creates an overwhelming need for sound family structure and values. Most homes have several generations living under the same roof. Reunions are also regular because if a Tongan isn’t familiar with his or her family tree there is a good chance undesirable dating may occur. There are hierarchical ranks within each family, which are not universal, and range from where a member sits at the dinner table to household chores.

The world recognizes Tonga as “The Friendly Islands,” and almost all Tongans are extremely welcoming to foreigners and treat guests as a member of the family. However, gender is a strong determining factor in one’s role as a Tongan, and certain tasks are associated exclusively with males or females. For example, Tongan families are seemingly patriarchal in nature, while the women actually make most important decisions inside the home. Tonga’s government also has a mandatory education system for young people up to the age of 14 years. Thus, literacy rates are the highest in the Pacific and are at about 99% for 15-24 year olds. [3]

The Peace Corps has an extensive presence in Tonga since the first volunteers arrived in October of 1967. Since that time, over 1000 volunteers have served willingly, primarily as teachers. Presently, a new micro-enterprise development team has sprung up to help natives create income-generating businesses for their families domestically, rather than overseas. The volunteers aim to train and motivate communities, and teach basic business skills. [4]

A Whole New World

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Edward chuckled to himself as he lay in bed reflecting on his first day’s experience in this new, unchartered territory of Tongatapu. Since the moment he stepped off the plane, Edward was bombarded by culture shocks. As he was going through the Tongan version of Customs, the friendly man dressed in traditional military garb stopped him for some questions. “How long are you going to be living in the lovely Kingdom of Tonga?” asked the man in scattered but impressive English. “Two years,” Edward said while holding up his middle and index finger. Much to his chagrin, his assigned Peace Corps trainer explained to him that he just told the Customs officer to ‘F’ off. Cultural differences, Edward would find, not only caused such social faux pas, but also resulted in a significant limitation to free enterprise as a means for economic growth.

After his week long training, Edward was boated to the island where he would be spending the next two years. Vava’u was second in population to the main island, Tongatapu. His reaction after the first couple of days was that the island teetered on the “edge of modernity;” it had paved roads and a reasonably sized retail district complete with two banks and a few stores, but most of the population sustained a living off their small acre farms.

Edward was lucky enough to receive a luxurious housing arrangement (compared to other Peace Corps Volunteers). His had running water, a full kitchen, and electricity. It was provided by the bank that Edward partnered with, the Tonga Development Bank. Nonetheless, Edward’s experience was far removed from his life in the States. The power went out in Edward’s house four times in the first week and the cell phone graciously given to him by one of his colleagues had about a 50% success rate for placing or receiving a call – on a good day. The internet connection, when it was working, downloaded data at 32K, just a little more than half of the speed of a dial-up modem in the USA. Although these were just a mild inconvenience to Edward, there were also infrastructure issues that created a problem in Edward’s line of work – developing the skills of the business owners in his local community.

About three months into his stay in Vava’u, Edward was able to go into villages and help business owners on an individual basis. “Here is where I can do the most help; this is what I know best,” Edward thought en route on his first community excursion. On his return from the village, Edward’s ego was long gone; he still had a lot to learn before he could actually help private enterprise prosper in Vava’u.

When Edward first walked into this small general store, he was amazed to find the shelves almost bare and no one was in the shop except the man who owned it.

“Where are all of your goods?” Edward asked with curiosity.

“Still in Tongatapu, waiting to be shipped to me!” the man said with a genuine smile and no concern whatsoever.

“So, you are waiting on supplies to be shipped over from the main island?”

“Yes, my friend Edward. The boats usually come every Monday and Wednesday, but for the past two weeks have not showed up.”

“Why?” was the only thing Edward could think of saying.

“It is a mystery to me. There really is no reason to worry though, it is pineapple season and the kids and wife are eating as heartily as ever.”

Edward concluded later that the infrastructure was definitely not in a place to sustain a competitive market of any sort. He pondered, “How are these business owners supposed to keep a steady supply chain?” and “Why is the government not investing in the proper transportation and commercial channels? These were puzzling questions for Edward, but not as puzzling as the main question in his mind: “Why aren’t Tongans doing anything about it?” It seemed that he still had some things to learn about the Tongan culture.

The Dirty “M” Word

Soon after Edward’s first encounter with a Tongan business owner, he met Mele. Her husband came into the bank where Edward was working and inquired about starting a small grocery store in their village, ten miles away. In these situations, Edward learned, men are the ones who make public appearances and ask the questions, but it is actually the women who keep the books and make the business decisions. Accordingly, Edward asked Mele’s husband to bring Mele in for a group discussion on how to start up this grocery store. Once all three were behind closed doors, Edward dove right into questioning.

“Why do you want to start a grocery store?” Edward asked.

“To provide for our family and friends,” Mele’s husband replied.

“Why not do it to make a profit and save some money?”

“We have been experiencing some food shortages and our only concern is the well being of our family and community.”

“But wouldn’t money make you happy? If you ran your store correctly, you could have extra income to spend on whatever you wanted.”

“Money doesn’t make us happy, Edward. Having food, shelter, and a good family is what makes us happy. For the necessities we cannot produce ourselves we rely on the money sent to us by Mele’s relatives and mine.” Mele’s husband concluded.

It was now apparent to Edward that Tongan’s motivation is what confused him the most. Mele and her husband had no clear idea what ‘profit’ even meant; all they wanted to do was provide for their friends and family and make sure no one goes hungry. Those values are engrained in Tongan culture just as much as self-preservation is engrained in the American culture; remittances and handouts are the only way of life. “Where are the incentives for Tongans to start a business for profit when they get money sent to them for doing nothing?” Edward pondered.

The Argument for Free Enterprise

Edward made a lot of progress with Mele as well as multiple other small business owners. Throughout the course of a year, Edward championed a multitude of small victories, including:

  • Helped Mele and her husband start their general store

  • Taught over ten small business owners proper bookkeeping methods

  • Developed a website for a small Tongan business owner

  • Trained Tongan bank staff underwriting of loans

  • Assisted in IT problems throughout the island of Vava’u

Still, he was having trouble finding a large-scale solution to promote free enterprise and ultimately, promote economic growth. Edward believed the government’s regulation of business, as well as the culture and lack of infrastructure, was hindering economic growth. In his opinion, helping small business owners with their business skills was a very small-scale solution; there was still little hope for a nation-wide privatization of the economy. The Tongan SOEs, coupled with strict property laws, decreased demand for foreign direct private investment and greatly increased the barriers of entry to all industries.

Edward found hope when a private company came to Tonga and took the mobile phone market by storm. Prior to this, there were only two cell phone companies in the whole Kingdom. The largest, called UCall, is owned by the public telephone SOE, and in distant second for size and revenues was Tonfon, a company owned by the king and other government officials. Digicel, a global cell phone giant, bought out Tonfon in early 2007. The process took months, and for about a year Digicel operated Tonfon as it had always been run. [6] When Digicel started promoting a free concert by American reggae star Shaggy, everything changed drastically. No one knew who Digicel was, and there was no explanation to why they were sponsoring a concert, only that it was free and everyone was invited. The night of the concert was met with heavy rains, but despite that, over 10% of the whole population ended up attending the concert. After the show, Edward went to bed without seeing a single Digicel sign or advertisement. When he woke up, Digicel banners and billboards were seen almost everywhere in town and, according to Edward, the town had been “painted Digicel Red over night.” Along with all of the new marketing ads, Digicel representatives were traveling door-to-door selling phones and two months of service for $20 USD. Edward had never seen a company do such a masterful job of marketing and launching than what he had witnessed Digicel accomplish. Although this was a rare case of free enterprise thriving, it gave Edward hope that it could happen again in the future.

After witnessing Digicel’s success, Edward returned to Vava’u to work with small business owners, and was still trying to help free enterprise prosper in the great Kingdom of Tonga. He felt good about helping Tongan small business owners, but he was still trying to implement a solution to provide Tonga with sustainable growth. It wasn’t for a lack of ideas; Edward believed the national economy could benefit greatly from its beautiful geography and fertile soil, as well as its educated population. Eco-tourism, Multinational Corporation call support centers, and exporting crops all presented great potential to thrive in Tonga, if the infrastructure and institutions were in place. But what could the Peace Corps do to help make this a reality? As Edward’s stay in Tonga was winding down, he had a perspective changing realization. There will always be use for the 20-something college graduates who enter the Peace Corps, but what countries like Tonga need are older, more experienced PCVs to work on an individual basis with the upper levels of government. In order to modify the current milieu in which the Tongan government operates, Edward believed the Peace Corps must work harder to actively recruit older adults with “real world” experience. Only then will significant progress be made in repairing the gaps of Tonga’s economic infrastructure.

On the 17-hour plane ride back to the US, Edward was optimistic for the future of Peace Corps in Tonga. As long as the right volunteers were working in the right places, there would be significant progress made on the most pressing of issues, including:

  • Improving infrastructure,

  • Disaggregating the large and underperforming public sector,

  • Incentivizing personal entrepreneurs, and

  • Promoting foreign direct investment

Lingering Questions

What else could Edward do to promote a large-scale solution? Are there any ways to address the lack of infrastructure and unfavorable regulatory environments and promote capitalism without damaging the rich culture? What will it take for Tongans to stop relying so heavily on remittances and take initiative themselves for economic growth?


  1. Asian Development Bank, 2008 [5]

  1. Department of Statistics, Tonga, 2006 [9]

Works Cited

  1. "Low Productivity Cripples Tonga Economy." Economy. 16 Oct. 2008. 18 Nov. 2008 <>.

  1. "Promoting Prosperity in Tonga: Removing Constraints on the Private Sector." Asian Development Bank. Transforming Tonga. 20 Oct. 2008 <>.

  1. "Population, Health, and Human well-being." Earth Trends: Country Profiles. 18 Nov. 2008 <>

  1. "History of the Peace Corps in Tonga." 28 Mar. 2008. 21 Nov. 2008 <>

  1. "Reducing the Presence of the State in the Economy." Asian Development Bank. 28 Nov. 2008

  1. Hunsicker, Steve. "Business Changes in Tonga." Weblog post. Steve's Adventures. 15 May 2008. 13 Oct. 2008

  1. Hunsicker, Steve. "More About Tonga." Weblog post. Steve's Adventures. 9 July 2007. 12 Oct. 2008

  1. Tonga Geography. Tonga’s Geography 2008. CIA World Factbook. 14 Nov. 2008

  1. Economic Indicators Report 2006.” Department of Statistics, Government of Tonga. 13 Oct. 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Interesting People and Places

I've had a chance in the past week to meet some really fascinating people and go to some interesting places.  I'm in the Ha'apai island group in the Kingdom of Tonga.   Ha'apai is located about halfway between the main island group of Tongatapu and the Vava'u Island group where I live.   As part of my job, I come to Ha'apai twice a year to work with businesses and conduct business training workshops.  This visit I spent all my times on small outer islands (and a lot of time in boats).

The Island of Ha'ano

It takes about an hour via boat to get to Ha'ano but it is well worth the trip.  This small outer island is one of the cleanest places I've seen in Tonga.   With friendly people and a beautiful setting, it's also an island of surprises.    The village of about 120 people has underground electric service and city water service.    At night, there are even street lights to illuminate the paths through the town.   I never expected to find such "luxuries" on a small island.  IMG_1522 The power is provided by generators but it only runs for eight hours a day, generally from about 6pm until 2am.   Every drop of diesel fuel is brought to the island in small cans.    The cans are filled up on the main island, carried to the dock and then transported by boat to Ha'ano where they are emptied into the generator and then returned via boat for another fill-up.

Of course, not all the modern conveniences are great.  During our workshop, we had one participant whose cell phone rang at least 20 times, if not 30 times.   It rang so many times that even some of the Tongans started snickering every time it rang.   I later learned that the reason no one said anything  to her was because we was married to the town officer.

One of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers Grant lives on this island, however, we actually were not on the island at the same time.  As I was arriving on Friday morning, he was just leaving in a boat to the main island.   We quickly shouted across the water that we would get together for dinner that night on the main island.


I first met Patti on my last trip to Ha'apai in June.   She was building a resort on a nearby island.   I told  her if I could do anything to help, to let me know.   So a few weeks ago I heard from her.  Was I available to come out and work with her?   After a few phone calls it was agreed that I would come out Saturday and return on Sunday.  I also asked Patti if my Peace Corps friends Grant and Phil could join me on the trip to her resort which is on the island of 'Uholeva.

None of us had ever been to the resort before and didn't know what to expect.  We packed as if we were going camping taking stuff to prepare meals and other camping gear.    However, we quickly realized that none of this would be needed.

As we stepped off the boat, we could not help but be impressed with what Patti has created on this IMG_1544island.   She has a piece of property that stretches from one side of the island to the other and she has constructed small "fales" or buildings on both sides to host her guests.   There are 11 buildings, each constructed in Indonesia and shipped to Tonga.   Five are for sleeping.

While this might not seem like a big feat, let me tell you a little bit more about Patti.   She retired from the Four Seasons in Hawaii where she was a massage therapist.   During a sailing trip she found the property where her resort is now located.  She made an offer on the spot to lease it and then began the process of figuring out how to get it built.  She moved to Ha'apai by herself, not knowing anyone and with little business background.    She has now created a really amazing place which I find remarkable for a woman who is just a few years younger than my own mother.

She plans to open in early January.  


If you want to get to Patti's island from the main island, you will need to go by boat.   We were lucky enough to get Jimmy and his boat to take us.   Jimmy is quite a colorful character and he kept us entertained during the two hours we spent with him.  (one hour each way).   He told us stories about his youth, about funny things that have happened to him and bragged that he had been smoking heavily since 1965.  If you ever happen to be in Ha'apai and need a boat.  Ask for Jimmy.


I've heard a lot of jokes from my friends and family comparing living in Tonga to the CBS Network show "Survivor".  It's really not the same thing.   However, this week I met a man from French Speaking Switzerland who is living the true Survivor experience.  His name is Xavier and he is spending 10 months alone on the island of .Tofua.  Tofua is an active volcano and for the most part uninhabited.    Xavier decided to go there with no more than a knife and some very basic camping equipment to live life away from what he calls the trappings of modern society.

He's also shooting a documentary about his adventure.  He's been on the island for three months and just made his first trip back to the main island.   He could no longer charge his video equipment and came to town to try to get that resolved.   

As a Peace Corps volunteer, we are not allowed to travel to Tofua because some former volunteers got stuck out there and had to be rescued by Peace Corps.   So until the rules change, I'll have to wait for Xavier's documentary to see what it is like. 

You can also follow his adventures on his website which he updates each week.

The Island of Mango

Monday morning we left the main island of Ha'apai and traveled six hours south by boat across open water under the starlight skies to island of Mango.  We got up at 2:30am to begin our journey.  My friend Grant decided at the last minute to join my Tongan counterpart Kololesa and I for the trip.  We were also joined by Paula, (man) who is a loan officer at the Ha'apai Branch of the bank.    Grant and I slept for most of the trip.  Finally, I heard the boat's 60 horsepower motor slow and peeked out from below deck to see the lush tropical island of Mango.  It may have been one of the most inviting places I've ever seen.   Even before stepping onshore you knew you were somewhere special.   Perhaps it was the nicely planted flowers along the water that marked the path to the village or the lovely sandy beach.  Once onshore, the first impressions held as we wandered around the island warmly greeted by the people. 

A couple of kids quickly adopted Grant and I to show us around the village.   However, because I was not feeling well, I ducked out and found a small Tongan hut on the beach and laid down on the mat inside.   The people of the village quickly realized I was not feeling great and a little boy showed up at the hut and asked me if I wanted some Otai, which is a drink made from fresh fruit and coconut juice.   A while later, someone brought out a bottle of Pepto-Bismal.  (I declined) and then anther told me he had some pills that could help me feel better.  (Again I declined)  

I wasn't actually feeling that bad but the people of the island seemed so concerned about me, it was really touching. 

The reason we stopped in Mango was because there one link to the outside world, a radio telephone had stopped working.  We had brought a replacement on the boat, but unfortunately it didn't work either, so when we left, this people of this island had no communication with the outside world.

The Island of Nomuka

For the past two years, there have been two Peace Corps volunteers living on Nomuka.   Both just completed their service.   They are also the two volunteers who I don't know at all having met Ada just once and Janelle twice.  Nomuka is really in the middle of nowhere.   I had hoped that both volunteers would still be there when we arrived so that I could get to know them better, but they had just left even though we were told that Ada would be returning. 

Even though I don't know these volunteers well, I have a new found appreciation for them after spending 24 hours on Nomuka..  It's a dirty little island and the people are not that friendly.  In short, it is everything that Mango is not.   It's one redeeming quality is the beautiful lake that sits in the middle of the island.  (Note:  This is NOT the lake in the photo below, but it was a more interesting photo than the one I took of the lake)

IMG_1583The four of us spent the night in a Kava hall and while Grant and I did some exploring, for the most part that was where we spent our time. 

It's also where we held our bank workshop.   We had arranged to hire a small portable generator for the three hour workshop so that we could power our computer and projector for the PowerPoint Presentation.   However, about five minutes before the workshop, we were told they only had enough Petrol to give us one hour of power.    I quickly changed the presentation and we made it work.

The Island of U'iha

After our workshop, we got back in the boat and made the four hour boat trip to U'iha.  We arrived just before sunset and couldn't help but be impressed with this village that looks west into the setting sun. I've always been fascinated by Sunsets.  It's a relaxing way to end the day and a beautiful way to usher in the evening.  It was a great welcome to U'iha.


We spent two nights on 'Uiha and quickly became big fans of the island and it's people.  The town put us up in an empty house and provided us with mats for sleeping and even pillows.   Everywhere we went, we were welcomed warmly and the scenery was really great.


Details of a Tongan Business Trip

During my TV Career, I often took business trips, usually staying in nice hotels and eating at great restaurants and flying in either business or first class.    This business trip could not be more different than those trips.    I' slept on the floor most nights with just a sheet over me.     IMG_1596There is only one restaurant in the entire Ha'apai island chain and it is located on the main island.  Meals have ranged from traditional Tongan meals of fried fish and root crops to cold cans of spaghetti eaten on crackers.   

Our travel has been aboard a 38 foot hand-made Tongan boat with a single 60 Horsepower Outboard Motor.   By comparison this is a really nice Tongan boat.  One of the best I've used.

Looking at this photo, just imagine traveling across the open Pacific Ocean in it miles from the nearest land.    That's exactly what we did.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Tongan Wedding

If you were going to select a time to get married, most Americans wouldn't even consider getting hitched in a church wedding at 10am on a Tuesday.   However, that's a great time for Tongans to get married.

The tradition of weekday marriages stems back to an ancient belief that some days (like Saturday) are unlucky.  Consequently, you won't find many Tongans getting married on the weekend.

And even a "traditional" church wedding is not traditional by US standards.   This week, I had a chance to observe my first wedding in Tonga.  It was the marriage of my landlords daughter, whose name is Na'a. 

While the Tongans may be superstitious about the day to get married, they don't have any superstitions about the groom and the bride seeing each other before the ceremony.  In fact, it would be impossible.

The wedding begins when the bride and groom go to the courthouse to get their marriage license.  That is done just before the church service.


Only a few people are allowed inside the courtroom when the marriage documents are signed.  But family and friends wait outside then join a procession of Tapa covered cars to the church.  (Tapa is traditional Tonga cloth that is pounded from the bark of Mulberry trees)


Once at the church, the bride and groom enter together along with their family members.

After the procession, the groom goes to one side of the church and the bride to the other.  However, like an American wedding, emotions run high as you can see in this photo of the proud parents, my landlords, Kepu and Save.


Eventually the bridge and groom are brought together, rings are exchanged and they are pronounced husband and wife.


But because this is conservative Tonga, this is no kiss.  Only a brief Tongan hug.   After the service, everyone comes outside to congratulate the couple and take photos.   Interestingly, in most of the photos the bride and groom are not standing next to each other.   In Tonga you will almost never seem any display of affection between men and women in public.  Even in church the men and women do not sit together, so it was no surprise to find the couple not holding hands or even standing together.


After the service it was back to the house and time to eat.   James and I didn't attend the feast as we had a going away lunch for our fellow volunteer Sarah.

Good-bye Sarah

The next volunteer to complete her service is my good friend Sarah.  Sarah was actually the very first person I ever communicated with in Tonga, long before I met any of my fellow volunteers.  I found her e-mail address online and we started e-mailing.  I had no idea back then that I would end up living in Vava'u and that we would become such great friends.

The lunch was pretty low key.   The other volunteers will still see her again, but because I'm leaving to go on a bank trip to Ha'apai, this was my chance to say good-bye.


Sarah has been our activity planner in Vava'u.  She's the one responsible for organizing many of the camping and sailing trips along with get-togethers and volunteer meetings.  She will certainly be missed.  She's also very involved in her village like and has been a really good volunteer.

I've also now become online friends with Sarah's mom back in Connecticut.  She started reading my blog, then we exchanged some e-mail and now we are friends on Facebook.   I even briefly said hello to her on the phone Tuesday.  

And if Stan looks a bit different in this photo, it is because after more than 14 months in Peace Corps, he finally got his hair cut (Watch Video)..


Ha'apai and USA Bound

As mentioned above, I am leaving for the Ha'apai Island group in about an hour.  I'll be spending the next nine days conducting workshops on three outer islands.   These are some of the most remote islands in Tonga and depending on the weather it may take us 12-14 hours each way by boat to get to one of them.

From there I'm heading to the main island of Tongatapu.  I'll be going to Fua'amotu to spend a weekend with my first homestay family.  Then on December 16th, , I'm heading to the USA for the holidays.  I'll be spending 10 days in Northern Virginia with my family and then 10 days in South Florida at my house.    It will be my first trip back  to the USA since I left 15 months ago.  I return to Tonga on January 8th, 2009 to begin my second year of volunteer service.