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!!!

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