Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Catching up - Part 3 - Liahona Graduation, and oh yea, eating!!! Again!!!

School is ending for the summer (does it seem weird to anyone else that summer is in November, December, and January?) and that means GRADUATION. They do graduation here in a big way.

This past Thursday we attended the graduation dance. They have tables set up all around the gym, all
decorated with tablecloths and beautiful centerpieces, and the chairs covered with cloth covers and big bows. These are for the graduates and their dates. Then.....along the outside wall they have chairs about three or four rows deep...between the outer walls and the tables. These chairs are for the parents!! Yes, parents attend the dances here – well, at least the graduation dance.

The set Elder Meyers built
Once all the parents are seated, the graduates and their dates come through a back door, up onto the back of the stage behind a beautiful set build especially for the dance, and then out onto the stage where they're introduced. Then they walk down stairs onto the gym floor, pause and pose for pictures (Tongan's do NOT do candid photos – if they see a camera they are posing!!), and then are led to their assigned table.

'Ota Tupou (in the gold dress) - Vaesiu's niece - doing the Promenade
Once all the graduates have been introduced and are seated, music starts, and they all do an elaborate promenade. I think the promenade took about 10 minutes.....they walked around the outside of the gym in pairs, then four abreast, then eight abreast, then formed lines and weaved in and out of each other. It was really something.

Dipika - our cute little Indian friend from house #9 (accompanied by her brother)
Oh.....and I forgot about the dresses. AMAZING. Many of the girls made their own... some bought dresses and had to modify them for modesty. But, they were elaborate...like you'd see on the red carpet of any Hollywood awards show....but they were ALL modest.

After the promenade then the dancing music really begins. Dad wanted to stick around for a little bit of the dancing to see if they danced any differently here than they do in the US.....they don't. :)

Immediately after the dance was over at midnight they tore down the set (which they'd stayed up all night the night before setting up) so they could begin decorating for graduation. There were 130 students who graduated from Liahona High School this year. It rained quite hard in the morning, but by the time the students were lining up outside the gym to march in the sky had cleared – but it was so muggy! The graduates marched in and up on the stage of the gym where chairs were arranged for them. Their gowns were Liahona green, of course, and they looked beautiful and handsome.
Marching off stage after graduating
The valedictorian (they're called Dux here), Elizabeth Ramsey, gave a beautiful speech. She honored her parents by telling them how much she appreciated her mother's encouragement that she could work hard and get good grades, and her father's unselfish willingness to rise early each morning so he could go fishing and provide income so they could afford her education. She said she hoped that from now on he would not have to spend his days being tired from rising early to take care of her, that she could now help take care of her family.
Elizabeth Ramsey after graduation - bedecked with leis (Mom is in blue)

The entire student body sang two songs. These Tongans can sing!!

The Tongans (well, Polynesians) love to give leis. It's traditional that after the graduation ceremony all the graduates go outside, find a spot, and well wishers come and show their love for the graduates by decorating them with leis. There are all kinds of leis, too......flower leis, money leis, candy leis, ribbon leis. Some of the students get so piled with leis they can barely see over the top of them. Then they have to start putting them on their arms, or at their feet.
We wandered around watching in amazement at the elaborate set ups where families had placed mats on the ground for the graduates to stand on, or had erected tents with signs congratulating a specific graduate. Just like at home, extended family were also present. Many from Hawaii or the US...and, of course, from all over the islands. I'm sure houses all over the islands were bursting at the seams with extra bodies.

Vaesiu, Celia ('Ota's Mom), 'Ota (Roy ('Ota's dad and Vaesiu's brother)

Then after all of that, some of the graduates host a dance for all their friends and family. We attended a dance for 'Ota Tupou, daughter of our good friends here, Roy and Celia Tupou, from Te'ekiu. Roy is Vaesiu Tupou's brother. Vaesiu is our very good friend from Juneau, and sister-in-law to Pres. Tupou. I think the dance was originally going to be outside, but it had been raining on and off all day, so it got moved into the gym at the chapel in Te'ekiu. At one end was a covered dias with chairs covered with a mat. This is where 'Ota and her two friends (who were the guests of honor) sat. On either side of the dias were white covered cloth covered chairs, with large green bows where honored guests sat. Part way through the dance large platters full of candy were passed around to all the guests. We finally made our farewells about 10:00, since we turn into pumpkins about that time, and the dance was still going strong.

Vaesiu, being Vaesiu, and being 'Ota's aunt, spent months preparing for 'Ota's graduation by making leis, planning a graduation dance, and shipping three (yes THREE) large 8' x 4' containers with things she would need for 'Ota's graduation festivities. There were leis, and leis, and leis. I don't know how many, but a LOT....maybe a hundred or so. And candy. I didn't ask, but one of the containers may have been ONLY candy. And, of course, she brought not only 'Ota's dress, which she made, but two or three others she made for some of 'Ota's friends. Graduation is a very big deal here in Tonga!!

Graduation was Friday. Saturday we went to the beach – for a few hours anyway. We headed back early so Garth could make sure a projector had been set up and was working for Pres. Tupou to do his training at the Matahau stake conference. I knew I still had a few hours before I needed to start getting ready for the evening session of conference, so I was taking things easy...that is until I opened my pantry and found an ant infestation. I pulled out several of the food items that were in sealed bags, and then sprayed the heck out of that closet with Permethrin. Killed those ants instantly. I sprayed the floor, too, and then stepped where I'd sprayed, so I wanted to shower right away. Good thing I did. I hadn't been out of the shower more than a few minutes when Sister Tupou called me. She had just received a text from Pres. Tupou, that the evening session was going to start at 5:00....not 7:00 like we thought...and that WE (members of the Tongan Mission) were on the program....singing! Surprise, surprise! And only 30 minutes to get ready! Our trusted accompanist was still at the beach, and unavailable by phone, so Pres. And Sister Tupou, Garth and I gathered around the piano and while Lori played we sang one of our favorite songs we've learned since coming to Tonga....Thy Will Be Done.

After a great stake conference, we were invited for some “light refreshments”. Light refreshments in Tonga is not cookies and punch. Light refreshments in Tonga is a feast. There was breadfruit, taro, plantains, ufi, kumala, puaka (roast pig), lupulu and lusipi (beef and/or lamb cooked in coconut milk, onions and wrapped in taro leaves and cooked in the umu, or underground oven), feke (octopus cooked in coconut milk), chicken, fish (several different kinds), and, of course, fai kakai (little dumplings made from tapioca flour and cooked in a caramel sauce) for dessert.

Then on Sunday several of the senior missionaries attended the Sunday session of the Matahau stake. Garth was asked to speak...and he showed off a little by bearing his testimony in Tongan. They had provided head sets and a translator for all us palangi's. It was wonderful to be able to understand what was being said. All of us were also seated on the stand behind the stake presidency, because the stake president wanted his members to see who the senior missionaries were. The entire meeting was about "Hastening the Work" and encouraging members to be more involved in missionary work, working in conjunction with the missionaries. Their stake baptismal goal this year was 70, which they reached the weekend of conference. Their goal for next year is 210.....triple this year's goal. And I expect they will get it. President Neiafu is a great stake president.

And, of course, after conference we were invited for lunch. Here's what we ate.....

Roast suckling pig, lupulu, yam, taro, fish, shrimp, potato salad, watermelon, pineapple, raw fish mixed with tomatoes, onions and coconut milk, sausages, teriyaki beef.....and things I can't even remember. Needless to say, I'm not eating anything for the next week!!!

Catching Up - Part 2 - My Dad's Here!!!!

So.......My Dad's Here!!!! He arrived November 9 (Sarah's Birthday – Happy Birthday youngest daughter of mine!)

What a fun day. He got here at 3:00 in the afternoon. At the airport here in Tongatapu, you can go upstairs over where you check in and over Customs, and look out over the tarmac. There are no jetways in Tonga. The planes come in, stairs are rolled out, and all passengers have to walk on the tarmac into the airport. Which is really cool, because the observation deck is open air and you can not only see the people getting off the plane, but you can yell at them :) Which, of course, is what we did when Dad got here. Several of the senior missionaries were at the airport to greet him. We all stood on the observation deck watching for him. Then a man in a suit, white cowboy hat, and cowboy boots exited the front plane door.....It was Dad. I hollered at him.....”ELDER BERGERRRRRR!!!!” He stopped, looked up, put down his carry-on bag and waved to us. Then all the other missionaries hollered at him. It was so fun.

Then we had to wait...and wait....and wait...while he went through Customs. He FINALLY made it through and I got to give him a great big hug.
A little blurry, but Dad finally coming out of customs
Elder Aland, who is also a cowboy, said “I like him already!” He also said the next mission he goes on is going to be as a service missionary so he can wear his cowboy hat.
The Webb's - Dad's next door neighbors
The boots didn't last long, though. By the next day or so he was wearing his Keen's. It's too hot for shoes here. And, by the third day he was wearing his “skirt” (tupenu).

He discovered what all the other guys here discovered...... “skirts” are WAAAY cooler than pants! He's been wearing a tupenu ever since.

The first day he needed a little help with his kafa (the tie that holds the ta'ovala – mat – on), and Elder Makasini was kind enough to lend his expert help. Dad's been here all of 10 days now, and he's able to get his tupenu, ta'ovala and kafa on all by himself. I'm still tying Garth's ta'ovala on!!!

But, we discovered you can take the cowboy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the cowboy.....or something like that.

Dad's been very busy since he got here. He's had to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road, shift gears with his left hand (in reverse order, no less), and maneuver on narrow roads used by vehicles, pedestrians, dogs, pigs and chickens. He's also having to find his way around this island transporting missionaries all over. Only the zone leaders have cars...so when missionaries need transported, someone has to drive them......That's when Elder Berger gets a call.

Dad got here on a Saturday, and the following Friday he was picking up missionaries all over the island and bringing them to a fireside with Elder Hallstrom, one of the presidents of the Seventy. Elder Hallstrom was assigned to reorganize a stake in Mu'a (a village here on Tongatapu), but wanted to do a special fireside with the missionaries while he was here. So, Friday afternoon all the missionaries on Tongatapu gathered in the Navu stake center (pronounced Nauvoo – named after the City Beautiful) and listened to Elder and Sister Hallstrom for two hours. It was wonderful. The missionaries on the islands of Ha'apai and Vava'u were able to go to stake centers near them and watch and listen. We were able to send the signal to Salt Lake, who put it up on the satellite. Unfortunately, the six missionaries we have in the Niua's were not able to watch or listen, because we just don't have the capabilities to broadcast there yet. But, President Tupou has already talked to the area office about getting a satellite in Niuatoputapu and Niuafo'ou so church meetings can be broadcast to the chapels there. What a wonderful blessing that would be for the saints there.
Front row: 1st and 2nd counselors in mission presidency. Second row: Elder and Sister Tukuafu (just released as mission president and now serving as area authority seventy), Elder and Sister Hallstrom, Sister Tupou, President Tupou, Paul, Jesse and Thomas. Third and fourth rows: Senior missionaries. The rest - all the missionaries on the island of Tongatapu.
Sister Tupou and I have been teaching the elders two mission songs – both of them Sally DeFord songs (Thank you Sally DeFord) - “Arise and Shine Forth” (a great missionary song) and “A Believer's Prayer” (another beautiful missionary song). The first line in “A Believer's Prayer” is “Father in Heaven, teach me, I pray, to walk as thy witness on earth.” I know other missions have missionaries who walk....but literally EVERY missionary here in Tonga walks. Miles and miles each day proclaiming the truthfulness of the Gospel. You could hear their testimonies ringing in their voices as they sang this song. And you should have heard them sing “Arise and Shine Forth.” I wish I could have recorded it. They raised the roof!!! What wonderful missionaries we have.

Of course...Tonga IS the best mission in the world!!! :)

Saturday we took Dad to the beach. The tide was out, so we were able to walk all the way to the break. We gathered shells, got a little sunburned, but overall had an enjoyable time. And of course, Dad was dressed in his P-Day clothes - his onesie!!! Yes, he brought it.
Dad, the Aland's and the Meyer's out at the break

Elder Aland and Dad getting surprised by a wave :)

Napping under the palms

Catching Up - Part 1

OK...It's been a while. So.....here's Catching Up Part 1. What a month. I finally had to start keeping notes so by the time I got around to blogging I wouldn't forget what had happened. And SOOOO much has happened.

Let's start with the Primary Children's Program.
Liahona 2nd ward primary - all dressed in white for the Primary Sacrament Program
Aren't they just adorable? I wish I could have recorded them singing. They knew all the songs, and sang so well. And their talks were amazing. Such testimonies those children have. I especially loved the song, “When I am Baptized.” The lyrics are:

I like to look for rainbows whenever there is rain
And ponder on the beauty of an earth made clean again.
I want my live to be as clean as earth right after rain.
I want to be the best I can and live with God again.

I know when I am baptized my wrongs are washed away,
And I can be forgiven and improve myself each day.
I want my life to be as clean as earth right after rain.
I want to be the best I can and live with God again.

They sang the last line....”I want to be the BEST I can....” with LOTS of stress on Best. It made me think....I do want to be the best I can so I can live with Heavenly Father again. These little children with their beautiful singing brought the spirit to our sacrament meeting and reminded the adults, in simple language, of what is most important, reminded us of God's plan for us, that he loves us and wants us to return to live with Him again.
A picture of the parents taking pictures of their kids...And yes, that's Garth right in the middle :)

We had transfer day October 21-22. We had four missionaries leave, and 13 arrive (three of those are missionaries awaiting visas to Papua New Guinea and Australia).

We also had a couple arrive – the Alands. We've already put Sister Aland to work helping out with music for firesides, etc. Yea!!!!
Sister Meyers (L) and Sister Aland (R)
She and Sister Meyers are also teaching piano lessons (in all their spare time) to some of the children in the Ha'akame stake. The first week they had seven children, and in the few weeks since they started the numbers have grown to about 13 or 14...some of them are young children 7-10 years old, and some are teenagers and young adults. They now have enough students they're having to split the class!!! The goal is to give the students enough background that they can begin playing simple hymns and primary songs in church. And as motivation to keep them practicing, we've applied for the Harmon Grant which gives each student who has a music calling in their ward a keyboard of their
very own to keep in their home so they can practice and fulfill their calling. We have 8 pianos coming currently, and likely that many more in the next few months. We need more piano teachers!!!! to come help teach in other stakes. Any takers? :)

We had a WONDERFUL rain storm the end of October. You can always tell when it's going to rain because the air gets heavy. I mean HEAVY!! You feel like you're sucking in air through a straw it's so thick, and when you get out of the shower in the morning you immediately have to shower again. Your clothes stick to you, and it's SOOOO warm and  humid. You feel like you're in a sauna. Then the clouds begin to move in and the sky gets gray. The animals must go into hiding because there are no chickens clucking, no birds singing, and no dogs fighting. Then all of a sudden the skies let loose. One minute it's dry, and the next there are puddles inches deep. It's amazing. And the people all come outside. The kids play slip and slide in their yards, the older kids and some adults grab their soap and shampoo and get a warm shower....Seriously!!! Everyone's outside. It can rain for just a few minutes, or rain all day.  The storm the end of October was not only rain...it was windy, too. And noisy!!!! It was so loud you couldn't carry on a conversation. We, of course, had to run outside with our phones and film the storm. It blew so hard that we had to close the louvers on the windows because the wind was whipping through our hall way and knocking the pictures off the walls and slamming all the doors. We hunkered down and enjoyed being inside.

And, of course, we've entered cyclone season now. We may be due for a bad one this year. Apparently it's been several years since a really bad cyclone. Glad we're in the middle of the island. We've been talking about our emergency plan. The power company turns off all power several days before the cyclone's expected to hit so there are no live electrical wires dangling from power poles during the storm. They say during the last cyclone people didn't leave their homes for five days because the winds were so terrible. Do I want to say I've survived a cyclone or not? Hmmmm......

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dear Brielle,

Grandma and Papa are having so much fun in Tonga, and can't wait until you and your mama come to see us. We wanted to show you some of the things we have been seeing and some of the things we have been doing.

There are lots of interesting bugs in Tonga. One day I saw a praying mantis. A praying mantis is green and long, and it holds its front arms out in front of it, and it looks like it is praying. That's why they call it a praying mantis. Another day when I was walking through the trees near the beach I looked down and right on the front of my shirt was a walking stick. It surprised me and I jumped and brushed it off. I looked on the ground to see if I could find it, but I couldn't see it any more because it blended in with all the little sticks and dead leaves on the ground. A walking stick is brown and looks like a little twig. They usually sit on branches of trees or bushes. The praying mantis sits on bushes that have green leaves, and looks just like a leaf on the branch. The praying mantis and walking stick are very good at hiding themselves and it makes it hard for birds or other animals that would eat them to even find them. That's a pretty cool trick, huh? If I see anymore I'll take pictures and send them to you. Maybe Mama can find some pictures on the Internet and you can see what they look like. And when you come to Tonga we'll go see if we can find some. Won't that be fun!!!

We've seen some really big spiders. Here are pictures of two of them.
And there are little tiny black spiders that jump from spot to spot. They are very fast.

There are big butterflies like this.

And even little tiny butterflies that are purple and like to play in the grass.

Here are some pictures of a little tiny gecko that lives in our house. He's only about as long as your pointer finger. That's tiny, huh. There are some big geckos that live outside, and at night they chirp.

And here's a picture of a gecko with a blue tail we saw at the beach. 

There are really big cockroaches here, too. I took a picture so you would know what one looks like. I don't like cockroaches!!!!

At the beach we saw some little tiny white crabs that live in the sand. They are the same color as the sand and are really hard to see. Sometimes when you walk by one it will start running and then you can see them. They run really, really fast. They look like this.

And there are some tiny little green crabs that live on the rocks out in the ocean. They look like this.

Pres. Tupou told us when he was growing up he and his dad and his brothers would go to the rocks in the ocean and pick up the green crabs and just eat them. Here's a picture of Pres. Tupou eating a little green crab. I didn't want to try one.

And there are mussels that live on the rocks, too. Here's Papa eating one.......he just picked it up off the rocks, opened it, and ate it. Can you believe that? I didn't eat one.

We saw some very interesting animals that are long and skinny, kind of like a snake, but they are a kind of sea cucumber. They have tentacles near their mouth, and they crawl along the sand in the ocean, and their tentacles pick up little things to eat, and put the food in its mouth. Here are some pictures of some we saw.
This is what the mouth looks like

Here's a picture of another kind of sea cucumber. It looks similar to the kind of cucumber we buy from the store, doesn't it. I think that may be why they call it a sea cucumber...because it looks like a cucumber, but lives in the sea. What do you think?

In some of the tide pools, back in little holes, are little animals that kind of look like spiky octopus. They are very shy and only come part way out of their holds. I don't know what these animals are called. Here is a picture of one peeking out of its hole a little bit.
And here's a green and blue starfish

There are lots of shells on the beach. There are some really, teeny tiny ones that are as small as the end of your fingernail. Here's a picture of some that are that tiny.

Here's a picture of a really big shell. It's called a Giant Clam.

One day when we were walking on the beach I found this.

I don't know what it is. It kind of looks like a tooth. It would fit in the palm of your Mama's hand. I poked it with a stick because I didn't want to pick it up and it kind of felt like I was poking a balloon. What do you think this could be? You'll have to see if you can help me figure out what it is.

There are great big bats that live in Tonga. They are called Flying Foxes because they look like a little fox with wings. They fly around at night and eat the young coconuts that are growing up in the trees. They also eat bananas and mangos and other kinds of fruit. One day we were walking in a field and there were lots of bats flying above us. I took this picture of them.

We saw a cute little baby horse, too. Here's a picture of it.

And we saw lots of cows.They live in fields of coconut trees. Coconuts and cows....that's kind of funny :)

And here's a picture of a baby calf drinking milk from its mama.
And some great big bulls.

And there are lots and lots of chickens and roosters. I tried to take some pictures of some little chicks, but they are afraid of people and hide when people come near. Papa and I also saw a mama duck and some baby ducks. Here's a picture of a rooster that lives near our house. Sometimes it comes into our yard. It likes to start crowing really early in the mornings while it is still dark outside. I don't like it when it does that because it wakes me up before I want to wake up!!! Silly rooster.

And there are lots and lots of pigs. Here are some pictures of some baby pigs and their mama.

Papa and I can't wait to see you when you come to Tonga. We miss you very much. The letter you wrote to us while we lived in Wrangell, and the picture you made for us of your hands, and pictures of you and your Mama are on the front of our fridge. We like looking at the pictures of you. But, we can't wait until we get to see you in person and can show you all the fun things to see in Tonga.

Love, PapaMa