Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Planes, trains and .....well, planes and boats!

It's been a very interesting week this week. We are learning about Tongan travel. When we were here in 2010 Chatham Air was the airline used for domestic travel. They left this year - not sure why. I'm not sure of all the players or all of the politics involved, but the current domestic airline company is having troubles. They can't get enough pilots. And some of the planes they purchased from China are not flyable, so the church won't allow missionaries to fly on those flights. It's all very confusing. And really hard to get anywhere.

Here's what happened this week. Elder Meurs, one of our area authorities, needed to go to Ha'apai for a district conference this weekend. Pres. and Sister Tupou were going to go with him. Their plan was to go to Vava'u earlier in the week, have a zone conference, and train the new trainers so they would be ready for their new companions we were sending to them (14 brand new missionaries straight from the MTC were waiting to go to Vava'u, but couldn't until their trainers got trained), come home, and then meet up with Elder Meurs in Ha'apai on Friday, Sept 20, have district conference, then fly home Monday Sept 23. We started working on the flights 2-1/2 weeks ago.....a chartered flight, not a regularly scheduled flight. We got word the chartered flight was a go. Then.......it all just fell apart. Looking back, the last two weeks were chaos at its very best. Every day it was something different...the charter was a go, the charter was canceled, the charter flight got moved to a different day, the times of the regularly scheduled flights changed....actually changed. By hours!!!! It was amazing. We were told there were seats available and we made reservations, only to find that we didn't have reservations after all. It was crazy!!

So....we finally had confirmed seats on a regular flight to Ha'apai leaving Friday afternoon at 2:30, Sept 20. Then we got word that arrangements for a charter flight leaving Friday morning was a go. Yeah!!!!!! That meant Pres. and Sis. Tupou, two assistants, and two new zone leaders were ALL going to be able to make it to Ha'apai. We were all so relieved. And exhausted!! No one had gone to Vava'u, however. The zone conference and trainer training were postponed by a week, because we couldn't get anyone to Vava'u. And all those 14 elders waiting to go to Vava'u were still stuck on Tongatapu, waiting until their trainers got trained. Thursday night, Sept 19, Elder Napa'a, one of the assistants, called and said he'd been checking email, and there was an email (this is Thursday night!!! The email got sent at 8:00 pm) that the they couldn't get our people to Ha'apai on the charter flight - it had been canceled. Again!!! But, there were two tickets on the 2:30 flight...for Pres. and Sister Tupou. We still weren't sure how we were going to get the assistants, and a new zone leader, to Ha'apai. We thought about it, decided there was nothing we could do late at night, so we went to bed and resolved to see if we could straighten things out Friday morning.

Friday morning there's an email letting us know that the 2:30 flight had been changed to 1:30. A little later we got an email saying it had been changed to 12:30, and there was only one seat available. It's still a little hazy as to what happened....we think the 2:30 flight got canceled, a new flight for 12:30 was created...and in that whole process, we lost our reservations, and there was only one seat available. AND......then we got word that they had rescheduled the 2:30 flight!!! We are having trouble keeping up.

And, here's how it all got resolved. Pres. Tupou took the seat on the 12:30 flight, Sister Tupou went
standby on the 2:30 flight, and luckily was able to get on. But what to do about the poor
assistants and new zone leaders. Fortunately, the mission owns three boats. One is stationed in Ha'apai and two are in Vava'u. Or the other way around. I can never remember. Anyway.....we called the boat captain, who happens to be the district president in Ha'apai, and had him come from Ha'apai to Tongatapu (it took him three hours), made arrangements for two 50-gallon barrels of fuel to be delivered to the dock in Tongatapu, got the assistants and two new zone leaders to the dock, the boat fueled up, the missionaries, captain and his deck hands fed, and they were off. This was about 3:00 in the afternoon.
Standing around while refueling
This is how we refuel boats in Tonga

Phew.....a HUGE sigh of relief. There is a big rock break wall on the outside of the wharf. We caught just a glimpse of the boat over the break wall.......and then nothing. It had stopped. Oh no!!! What else could go wrong? We waited. About 10 minutes later the boat comes around the corner of the break wall, and it's going slow! Questions flew through our mind. What was wrong? Were they having trouble with the engine? Was someone hurt? And then.....behind the boat was a small (VERY small) sail boat with three people in it, and only oars for propulsion. Our fearless, kind, and thoughtful missionaries and boat captain had done their good deed for the day and had towed in this poor sail boat. The three tourists aboard the sail boat were a bit embarassed, but I'm sure they were happy to be back near dry land, and not having to row anymore. Once the row boat was freed from the Molonai (the name of our boat), the missionaries were off. Man, that boat can go!!
Eating "Kentucky Fried" and manioke before leaving
Waving good-bye

We understand that the missionaries had an adventure getting from Tongatapu to Pangai (the major town on Lifuka - one of the main islans in the Ha'apai island group). They had to stop and spend the night in Ha'afeva (an island just south of Lifuka). It took them two hours to get to Ha'afeva, and the next morning another two hours to get to Pangai on Lifuka because of strong head winds and very bumpy water. But, they all made it safely and were so excited
Off they go
to have been able to ride in the church's boat. Then they all went to Lulunga (a small island
And back again...Good Samaritans
group within the larger island group of
Ha'apai) for district conference. And I guess that was quite a ride. Poor Sister Tupou got soaked by water coming over board...and she was in the cabin!!!

I suppose everything's well that ends well, though. New counselors were called into the district presidency, everyone arrived back safely to Tongatapu. Well......it's Wednesday, and the assistants STILL aren't back. We were able to get Pres. and Sister Tupou to Vava'u today for zone meeting and trainer training, but they were only going to have a few hours in which to do the training because.....you guessed it.....the flights changed!! The poor assistants ended up catching the ferry as it stopped in Ha'apai on its way to Vava'u.

Missionaries going to Vava'u - and friends
Waiting to board the ferry

We put our 14 new elders on the ferry Monday night. The ferry was due into Ha'apai yesterday morning at 8:00, but as of 11:00 it still wasn't there. That means the missionaries were probably on the ferry for 24 hours, instead of 18. But, they're in Vava'u!!!! But, the assistants still can't get back. We have them scheduled on a flight tomorrow at noon. We're hoping they make it.

Boarding the ferry
Oh, no........Just got a call from Sister Tupou in Vava'u. The plane on which they were to return to Tongatapu has had mechanical problems. They are having to fly in a part, which is coming by a small plane which can't fly after dark, and of course.....it's not getting to Vava'u until dark! So, their one-day up and back trip has turned into an overnight trip. The joys of Tonga travel!!!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sights of Tonga

I thought I'd post some of the pictures I've taken the last few weeks.

Banana trees growing near our house....Can't wait til they are ripe.

Cow and calf on Pres. Nau's farm

Trees planted by Elder Fletcher in 1952. They now form an arch over the road.

Rows of Chinese cabbage

A friendly cow on Pres. Nau's farm.

We went downtown one day and were greeted by about 4000 tourists from this cruise ship.

The wharf in downtown Nuku'alofa looking towards Pangaimotu, a resort island (and great snorkeling). Fish traps in the foreground.

Giant clam shell

The bell clangs, and the cows come. It's watering time.

Mama hen and baby chicks...so cute.

Pele - similar to spinach

A pandanus tree

Pres. Nau's bull, who keeps all the other cows and bulls in line

Looking toward's the island of Eua from Pres. Nau's beach

I think there are as many roosters as there are people here. You hear from them ALL night!

Sis Tupou and Sis Nau watching the cows get watered on the Nau's farm

The temple and sunset

Sunset on Pres. Nau's beach

Sunset on Pres. Nau's beach


The temple at night

Yes, that's corn. And it's almost ready to eat!!1

New missionaries galore

Wow. Two weeks have passed. The time seems to be flying by. We have now been in Tonga three weeks. Pres. Nau, who was just released a few months ago as a stake president here in Tonga, said we should count days instead of weeks.....it makes it sound like we've been here longer. So.....we've been here 23 days. We've been so busy I have to stop and think about what we did the last two weeks. Let's see....

Thomas and Jesse
We did get to play a little bit. Two weeks ago we went to a lovely beach, one that I had never been to before. The land is owned by Pres. Nau. Pres. Nau served as a missionary here in Tonga when Pres. Groberg was the mission president. His father served as a counselor to Pres. Groberg at the same time. How would you like to have your dad in the mission presidency while you were a missionary? Pres. Nau is a lovely man. The beach is three miles of beautiful sand. There's lots of coral in the water, so it looks like a great snorkeling beach, too. And the break is far enough out so the water close in to shore is very calm. We went with the Tupou's. Thomas and Jesse played in the water the entire time, while Garth and Pres. Tupou visited about something....I don't know what, becuase I wasn't paying attention. Lori and I were busy looking for shells. We found some pretty sea glass, as well. I need to get Garth out snorkeling to see what large shells he can find under water. We found some fragments of shells that look like they come from beautiful larger shells.
Pres Nau's beach
Pres. Nau, Pres. Tupou, Garth, discussing "things"
 Then a couple of days later we went back to the same beach and met Pres. Nau there. He and Pres. Tupou and Garth talked about some plans Pres. Nau has for the beach. We learned that King Taufa'Ahau Tupou IV owned the property (there is still a royal residence just up the hill from the beach) but gave it to Pres. Nau. Pres. Nau is a cousin to King Taufa'Ahau Tupou IV. We also learned that Elder Nelson visited the beach and played a little bit during the time he was here for the rededication of the Tongan temple in 2007. The beach has been the site of baptisms, as well.

We also went back to the beach this past Saturday, Sept 14, early in the morning because the tide was out and we wanted to go out to the break and gather a shell called an 'elili. It's a snail. The tide recedes all the way back to the break. There are only little tide pools left. It was great fun walking all the way to the break and watching the waves crash against the break, but be safe and dry.

The interesting thing about this snail is that it makes a little door that it closes when threatened. As the snail gets bigger, it discards the "door" and builds a new one. We'd found these "doors" on the beach, but wanted to see what they looked like in the shell. You can also eat them. So, we were at the beach by 7:30 a.m. Saturday. We did find some of the snails. I love their little doors. We didn't eat any of the snails, yet. I brought a couple of home with the
turbin sea snail surrounced by calcareous operculum (little door)
intention of cooking them, but we had to go shopping before we got home, and they were in a jar of water in the back of the car, and it was an extremely hot day (27 degrees C., which is only 80 degrees - but we were assured this was an extremely hot day. It sure felt hot to us). Needless to say, the poor critters were pretty much boiled by the time we got home. So, next time we go we'll collect some and cook them right away. I heard they're very good. We'll see.........

Saturday is P-Day and both Sept 7 and the 14th we went downtown to the market and the bakery, and then went to the "fea" (fair). There are two fairs, one on the way into Nuku'alofa, and one on the wharf. We, of course, chose the one on the wharf. It's a bit like a swap meet. There were people selling new things from New Zealand and the US (lots of dish soap, shampoo, perfume and electronic appliances), a few with Tongan T-shirts, and lots with used clothing and shoes. And there were a few selling food. The shave ice looked tempting, but not knowing the water source, we stayed away from that. But, one place did have a large popcorn maker, and being a popcorn lover, Garth had to buy a bag for one pa'anga (That's about 60 cents). I also bought a crock pot that is powered for 220...Yeah!!!
The "fea"

We had a late lunch this past Saturday (14th) and went to a Chinese place recommended to us by Elder Riddle, who is teaching discussions in Chinese. We went with Elder and Sister Stephen and Bonnie Meyers (cousin to Evan Meyers, and also from Sugar City). The food was delicious. I had chicken in ginger and green onion sauce (SOOOO good), Garth had beef curry (also excellent), Sister Meyers had chicken curry (delicious), and Elder Meyers had sweet and sour chicken (the chicken was deep fried tempura style - so delicate and delicious - I might get that next time). And yes, there will absolutely be a next time. The food was amazing.

Saturday night (Sept 7) and Sunday (Sept 8) were stake conference in our stake. Elder Peter Meurs of the Seventy was our visiting authority. It was a wonderful conference. The choir was amazing!! They sang both Saturday evening and Sunday morning. I tried to inconspicuously record them Sunday, because they were so wonderful, and because the session was not being held in a chapel. The Sunday session was not in the stake center, but was held instead in the gym at Liahona high school because the stake center would not hold all the people in attendance. There were 1500 people at the Sunday morning session. There are 2000 members in the entire stake. That's a 75% attendance. The stake president has great goals for his stake. He wants each member of the stake to work two hours a week doing family history work, and two hours a week attending the temple. His goal is to have every young man serve a mission, every couple and family sealed in the temple, and every man be ordained to the Melchizadek Priesthood. With the numbers attending stake conference, I would not be surprised if the Liahona stake achieves this goal. It was a great stake conference.

Then after conference we were invited to eat with Elder Meurs, the stake presidency, and several invited guests. We had a traditional Tongan meal - lupulu (YUM) which is corned beef and onions wrapped in "lu" (big green leaves that get all soft when they're cooked) and then coconut milk (fresh - just like they make it at the Polynesian Culture Center) poured over top, the leaves wrapped and tied, then the whole thing wrapped in foil and baked in the umu (underground oven). One of my favorite things to eat. There was also faikekai, which is little bread dumplings cooked in a coconut brown sugar mixture (also yummy). There was baked chicken, pieces of chicken breaded and deep fried, and in a delicious sort of sweet and sour sauce, turkey and dressing (yes, really), pork skin (of course - which I don't really appreciate like I probably should - so I didn't eat any of that) cooked fish, raw fish mixed with onions, tomatoes and coconut milk (I forget what it's called, but it's really good),  fresh fruit, coconut cake, banana cake, and I'm forgetting a whole bunch of other stuff. It was delicious. I could hardly move afterwards. We even took a little bit home for dinner Monday night.
Our departing missionaries

Monday, Sep 9, we said good-bye to 11 missionaries - six who live here in Tonga, and five who live in the states. It was sad. Elder Toki, who we got to know well because he was an assistant to Pres. Tupou, went home. It was a sad day for all of us. But, on Tuesday, Sep 10, we said hello to  22 missionaries from the states, and 10 from the Pacific Islands (7 of those are visa waiters who will eventually go to their assigned missions in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Australia). That's a lot of

Meeting 22 missionaries from the US. Look at all those missionaries!

Some of the arriving missionaries from New Zealand MTC.
Arriving missionaries and their companions at orientation
missionaries!!! About 10 of the new missionaries will start their mission out by going to some very small islands in the Vava'u group. They call it the "Groberg experience." They'll have quite an experience, I know.
Missionaries going to Vava'u

Wednesday, Sep 11 was training for the new missionaries. So, that was another busy day. After orientation the new missionaries went with their zone leaders to purchase their "Tongan missionary uniform." Tonga, I believe, is the only mission where the missionaries wear what has become known as a traditional native missionary uniform. The elders wear a white shirt and tie, a tupenu (lavalava) and the ta'ovala (the waist mat) held on by the kafa (a rope wrapped around the waist a couple of times to hold the ta'ovala on). AND they get to wear sandals!!! The sisters wear a combination of a tupeno and a pule taha. A pule taha is a long skirt and blouse, but the top and bottom match. The sisters wear a colored top, but a ankle-length tupenu along with the waist mat. They are easily recognized walking down the streets of Tonga.

Our container - on the back of Lupeni's truck. Now empty except for Jesse and Thomas :)

AND.....our container arrived!! It was like Christmas. We now have some food storage things so we don't need to go to the store as often (except the bakery, because I LOVE the bakery here). The best thing to arrive, however, was our pillows. Ahhhhh...... I missed my pillow. Now I can truly be happy :)

Still loving Tonga!!!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Adjusting to life 'i Tonga

We have now been in Tonga for one a week. Let me see if I can give you a little taste of what it's like. We wake up to dark skies (the sun doesn't come up until 6:30). We grab our head lamps and head off on our morning walk. There are no hills in Liahona, so we walk around the road that circles the Liahona school campus, which we found is exactly one mile around. It is 1/10th of a mile from our house to the gate at Liahona. We have been walking just two laps, but will start to increase that next week. So, our walks are typically 2-2/10th miles. By the time we are headed home the sun is beginning to come up. If there are clouds in the eastern sky, as we walk back towards our home (which is east of the Liahona campus) we see the temple spire silhouetted against an orange/red sky at the horizon, but pale blue above. The mornings are usually calm with a breeze developing in the afternoons as the temperature rises, and the temperatures this week have been lovely.

We make our oatmeal, sometimes with apples from New Zealand chopped up into it (Garth likes dried fruit in his), sometimes fat, little apple bananas (YUMMM!!), or papaya, a little brown sugar and cinnamon....a great breakfast. We are in the office by about 8:30. The rest of the office staff begins to arrive shortly after, we have a little prayer meeting and find out what everyone is doing for the day, and then we don't stop until 4:30 or 5:00. Then we run errands, visit with others, or go on visits with the elders.

We're adjusting to Tongan “nature,” too. The spiders are HUGE!!! Thursday evening I went into the laundry room (which is in a separate room attached to the house, but you get to it from outside, right next to the kitchen door) and on the wall was a friend who had come to visit. The spiders are not dangerous, but they are BIG!!!! I hollered at Garth, who came and said he killed it by hitting it with the broom. I asked him if it was really dead, and he said that he was sure it was, because he'd knocked it off the wall. Well, I was pretty sure that he hadn't killed it, and sure enough, when I went back to put the clothes into the dry, there it was just below the window. No more laundry for me that night. I left the door ajar hoping he would find his way out during the night. The next afternoon as we were walking up to our house, there it was on the outside wall of the house. There were some workers uncrating a chest freezer and one of them kindly picked it up and threw it out into the yard. Yuck!!!

The roosters around here can't tell time very well. They start crowing from about 2:00 a.m. until about 7:00 a.m., and then they must take a nap.....because we don't hear them again until 2:00 a.m. the next night. But, we're getting used to them. They're not waking us up nearly as much anymore.

And then there are the dogs. At least once a night the neighborhood dogs decide to battle it out. If we're lucky it's before we go to bed. Often, though, they decide to discuss their differences in the middle of our much needed beauty rest.

And let's not leave out the cockroaches. We found two very large critters in the middle of our kitchen floor, and Garth kindly took care of them for me. I opened up my silverware drawer and found a smaller one looking all together too comfortable. I hollered at Garth to come get him, but the dang thing decided to make an exit before Garth could get him. Then Garth told me I was going to have to learn to take care of them myself, or it was going to be a long two years. Well.......it's going to be a long two years because there is no way...NO WAY....I am going to pick those things up, even with a paper towel. NOOO WAAAYYY. 

But there is so much beauty. We drove to the blow holes just as the sun was setting. One of our favorite places to visit.

This past Friday we went with the Assistants to visit a lady they have been teaching. Friday's visit was their third lesson. She is a wonderful lady named Singa. The spirit was present so strongly. The lessons were taught in Tongan by Elder's Napa'a (one of the assistants) and Faleta (who is leaving tomorrow for Eua). Elder Toki (the other assistant) translated for us. After the elders were finished teaching they asked if Garth and I would like to share anything. I tried to share my thoughts in Tongan and did it very badly. The wonderful thing about the Holy Ghost is, though, that no matter how much I butchered the Tongan language, He was able to touch Singa and let her know that what I said was true. The Holy Ghost is the teacher – not us. We are just facilitators. Garth was smarter than me and spoke in English, which Elder Toki than translated to Tongan for Singa. He was able to better express his thoughts than I was. But, it's all okay. Someday (soon, I hope) I'll be able to say exactly what I want in Tongan. One of the things Garth and I talked about wanting to do while in Tonga was to help the missionaries with their lessons. I'm so excited that we were able to start doing that our first week here. I am loving being a missionary and sharing the Gospel!!!!
me, Elder Makasini's "auntie", and Singa

Tonight (Sunday) we had a chance to share the Gospel again. We did a musical fireside. Elders Makasini and Kaukava arranged it along with the ward mission leader in the ward they serve in. It was great. Sis Tupou and I sang a couple of numbers, Pres and Sis Tupou, Paul, Garth and I sang a song called “Thy Will Be Done.” Thomas and Jesse sang, “If The Savior Stood Before Me.” The 'Itaihau brothers sang two numbers in Tongan – they were phenomenal. Sis Tupou and I played “I Am a Child of God” piano duet...that was fun. Elder Makasini played the piano while Elder Kaukava sang “He Will Carry.” They did a great job. Sister Nikua, a sister missionary here, sang a medley of primary songs. Everyone did a great job. There was a couple who joined the church about 9 years ago, who shared their testimonies, and Garth spoke. The chapel and overflow were filled, and there were about 30 investigators there. We had such a great response I think we're going to do another musical fireside at Christmas. 
Elder Makasini and Elder Taukava

Still loving Tonga :)