Lola & Toni in the Tonga

A big Swim
September 1, 2008, 2:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

In other recent news, Lara swam to a little resort island off the main island of Tongatapu on Sunday.  A group of people, including some of the Australian and Kiwi volunteers organized a Pangaimotu swim on Sunday.  Of course, swimming is against the law on Sunday here in Tonga as it is a day of rest, but I guess Palangis can get away with allot of things here in Tonga.

We were out the door early (6:45 am) which is unheard of for me on my new Peace Corps schedule.  Oh well, it was Sunday, and we could rest when we got back.  We met some friends and drove down to the starting point.  About 8 other swimmers showed up and about 4 kayaks and a motor boat.  The people in the kayaks and motorboat were there to make sure everything went smoothly and to help out if there were any problems.  Of course, since I have become extremely lazy when it comes to swimming, I was to accompany a friend of ours and her 18 month old boy in a double kayak.  I was there for support, and of course, breakfast.  The swimmers took off for a 1.5 kilometer swim around 7:45 and about 30 minutes later swam up to the wonderful little island of Pangaimotu.

Even though it was an extremely cold day in Tonga, I think it was probably pretty good for a swim…Of course, I didn’t get in the water.  At the end there was a wonderful breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, juice and coffee.

Lara to this day impresses me with her desire to get out and do things like this….She is the best.


A day in the bush
September 1, 2008, 2:22 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So, quite a bit has happened since we returned from New Zealand, like the coronation of the king.  We hope to upload some pics from that, and post on the events as soon as possible.  For now, I am going to try keep up with current happenings.

Lara and I both work with a local youth group here in Tonga on different projects.  They are a pretty organized group for Tonga, and have weekly meetings and a bank account.  They even have elected officials, which is pretty interesting for a country with a Royal Monarchy.  Anyway, we generally go to the meetings every week and events that the youth are having and participate as much as possible.  Besides a computer project I have been working on with them, I have been trying to get them into a vegetable planting project.  The vegetables could either be distributed through the community, or they could sell them as a micro-business enterprise project.  Either way, I thought it a good thing to get started, and they seemed to agree.    We have been putting it off for one reason or the other for a couple months now, but we finally decided Saturday would be our first planting day.

I think it is important to give a little background on Tongan agriculture before I go any farther.   Generally, Tongan families are given a plot of land in which to grow crops to support their family or make a living.  This is part of the social structure of Tonga.  Generally the nobles own the land and allow the Tongan people to farm on a section of about 8 acres.  This is known as the bush or “Uta” in the Tongan language.   This plot of land is passed down through the generations of Tongans as if they owned it.   This is how I know the structure, so I hope it is correct.  Anyway, Poli and Pila the adults who run the youth group have an Uta or bush plot that we could use.  Most of the time, the plots of land are minimally utilized  probably due to the fact that the land is all farmed by hand.

On a side note again.  The Uta is generally man’s land, and it is where the men go to work and bring home dinner.  I think it is more of a place for man to escape, and possibly get drunk, sleep and possibly do a little bit of work.   When and if you alu ki uta (go to the bush) you will notice the large amount of beer and liquor bottles scattered around the place.  This is what leads me to my conclusion of a man’s escape to do things he might not normally do in or around town.

On another side note.  Tonga is much different than other peace corps countries due mainly to these plots of farming land and the rich soil.  There is no one in Tonga who is starving as there are in other countries….In fact, Tongans are more well fed that the majority of people in developed nations.  They eat….allot!!!

OK, back to my day in the bush.  So, I was picked up by Poli and Pila on Saturday morning and headed to the bush with about eight or nine of the youth.  I was supplying the seeds, so gratefully sent by my dear mother and some given to me by the Ministry of Agriculture.   Their uta was gorgeous like so much of the Tongan landscape.  Most of Tonga is made up of agricultural land, but it still feels very tropical and in some cases like tropical jungle.  There were orange trees (very bitter), bananas of all kinds everywhere, mangoes, coconut trees, and of course your crops of Taro, manioke,  ufi, and other Pacific root crops.   We started clearing the piece of land they wanted to plant with vegetables, with many breaks to drink and eat young coconuts.  I realized that I had barely enough seeds to plant a small corner of the plot.  Oh well, we still cleared about half the area and then went to preparing the soil.  Clearing the land and preparing the soil is a very manual and physically demanding task to do here.  One person would turn the soil, then four of us would break down the big clumps with hoes, and then the others would break down the small clumps by hand.  Damn I was wishing I had that rototiller at Angie and Wylie’s house in Portland.  Then the planting started.  We planted two big rows of carrots, rows of tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, and eggplants.  Even though we planted a very small portion of the property, if all the plants fruit, it would be enough to feed a neighborhood of people.  We are hoping to go back every couple of weeks to plant new seeds, and if possible, plant starts that the Ministry of Agriculture said I could take when they are big enough.  If all works out well, this could be a very good project for the youth, and if not, at least we will have free vegetables in a couple of months.

After the work, it was time to eat.  A couple of the youth had started an umu (underground oven) while we started clearing the land.  By the time we were finished, the umu was ready.  Funny thing is that a bunch more people showed up right when they were opening the umu up..  Like I said, Tongans like to eat, and there is always enough food to go around.  The umu was filled with puaka (pig) pieces and manioke.  when they food was laid out, everyone ate like they hadn’t eaten in weeks….This is also typical of Tongan meals.   The food was delicious, and everyone ate until they were disgustingly full, another Tongan trait…I imagine you are getting the idea of Tonga and eating, no?

Everyone kept thanking me profusely for coming out to work with them.  The truth of the matter is that I really enjoy the work and being outside.  If I could do projects like this for the rest of my service in Peace Corps, I wouldn’t be disappointed one bit.  It ended up being a very rewarding day, and I hope to get a chance to do it more….

A Nice Visit
August 25, 2008, 2:51 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

This is just a short post about something that made me feel good the other day.  I know you are thinking, Trent sure is touchy feely…….ha ha, but it was something that made me feel good about what we are doing in the Peace Corps.

On Sunday, like most Sundays, Lara and I strolled over to the Dateline Hotel pool for a cold one and to relax by the pool…It has become one of our weekly treats.  Anyway, there were a group of women sitting by the bar, and when I heard one of them speak I had to ask where they were from.   Just to let you know, there are plenty of white (palangi) tourists that come through here, but rarely are they from the states.  Anyway, these ladies were all from Phoenix, AZ, here for a diving/underwater photography tour.  I introduced myself and told them why we were in Tonga.  As soon as we mentioned that we were PC volunteers, they paid for our beers.  They offered to buy us lunch (we declined for some reason), but most of all, they wanted to talk about our service and Tonga.  One of the goals of Tonga is to share the culture of the country we are serving with the people back home.  This was a great opportunity to do so, and they really wanted to know.

Anyway, it was nice to speak with someone outside of the organization about our experiences.  After we spoke with them for a while and were ready to head out, they said something that no one has said to me  before…..Thank you for what you are doing here and your service in the Peace Corps.  Someone was truly appreciative of the service we are providing.  It was really nice to hear.  Also, they were big Obama supporters!!!  Go Obama!

New Zealand Part 3
August 25, 2008, 2:19 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So, apparently it takes more time to write about a vacation than it does to take one. There has been so much happening here that I want to take a last post to finish off our trip to NZ and get on with life that has already happened.

Well, after our wonderful visit to sulfur smelling Rotorua and a mud bath prior to getting in the Campervan, we decided to hit the East Coast with our destination of the day being Gisborne. Apparently, Gisborne is the Chardonnay capital of NZ and we thought a little winery hopping for free wine tastings was in order. After a drive to the North and lunch on the Bay of Plenty, overlooking White Island we were off to the South East. After a fairly grueling drive winding up and down mountains we hit Gisborne. We had heard there was an organic brewery in town and figured that would be a good stop for a post drive beer. Unfortunately, they only had dock sales, so we went to find our trailer park for the night. It was situated on a beautiful stretch of beach with good waves. Gisborne was also home to one of Captain Cook’s landing places. Man that guy got everywhere in the South Pacific! The weather was crap, even though the guidebook said this region from Gisborne to Napier (Hawkes Bay region) was supposed to be Mediterranean like. I didn’t realized it was that cold in the Mediterranean. Well, we decided to make a go of the area the next day. There was a good museum here that was of interest and of course the wineries. We checked out the Isite and found out the wineries were closed for the season unless you had made an appointment. Bad planning on our part I suppose, but we figured we could just drive up and request free samples at anytime. Well, the museum was great, and we did find out that the organic brewery offered free samples and also sold some good locally made wine. After a few selections, a couple purchases, we were off on the road again….South. Napier was the next town, and was also a very famous wine region in NZ. Napier is also known for it’s Art Deco architecture. Sometime in the 30’s, an earthquake destroyed most of the town, and it was rebuilt in this fashion.

Because of our museum venture and the incredibly windy roads, we hit Napier a little later than planned. We took a stroll through the art deco section admiring the architecture, and on to the beach. It was an incredible location but the town seemed excessively sleepy for being a big tourist destination. I guess that happens when you go at a time that is completely opposite to the tourist season. So, with time running out on our trip we had to decide if we would stay in sleepy Napier for another day or head down to Wellington. After much deliberation and checking on roads and routes (there were only two) we decided to haul ass to Wellington, and it ended up to be an excellent choice.

We had selected the closest place to stay in our campervan to Wellington, and because the roads were so good from Napier to Wellngton, we really made good time and arrived in early afternoon. With a bus stop right across the road, getting to town was convenient and quite fast. It was a beautiful day, and we were eager to get to town and check things out. With our mass of tourist info and our 5 year old Lonely Planet, we headed in. Ah, Wellington!! Another beautiful town set right on the water at the very Southern tip of the North Island. We headed to the waterfront for a stroll, where you could see the North end of the South Island, and what did we see staring us straight in the face????? Mac’s Brewery in all it’s glory. Needless to say, we were parched and this was like an oasis in the desert. After a sample of the beers at Mac’s, we headed on to find a store we were looking for, and a cruise down Cuba street. We found the store, and after much gawking at all the stuff and narrowing down our purchases, we headed off to the hip Cuba Street area. I have to say this about Wellington, it is pretty damn hip. After a stroll, we stopped at another pub to relax after our shopping spree and ended up befriending a nice local (homeless?) Maori man. Sam was his name, and he shared a nice blanket with us when the sun went down and it became cold. The next day, we couldn’t figure out what smelled like body odor until we remembered this wonderful blanket of Sam’s.

Next day in Wellington we awoke to pouring rain and the forecast of 140 km winds. I think that is pretty fast for kilometers. It was also our 10th wedding anniversary, and since the place we were parked was an extension of a hotel, Lara marched right in and booked a hotel room. I felt bad thinking that the van was a fine place to stay on our 10th anniversary, and finally agreed we should have proper accomodations. The hotel took pity on us and gave us a discounted rate and upgraded the room. It had even more amenities than the van did, including a huge spa tub in the upstairs bedroom. After a wonderful dinner, a soak in the tub (where we could watch tv from) and a movie, we planned the next day. Te Papa museum, or the National Museum was located on the waterfront, conveniently located right next to Mac’s brewery. The museum was huge, and free, or donation if you will. We spent the day touring around the museum and all the exhibits. It was so large we weren’t able to cover it all, but did spend quite a bit of time in the Maori sections. Wellington was one of our favorite places on the trip, and after an exhausting day, we decided to stay one more night if the hotel was willing to give us the same rate on the room.

The next day, the weather was still crap, but we head into town anyway. There is a cable car that goes to the top of Wellington with a beautiful view and a botanical garden. Unfortunately the view wasn’t that great, but it was well worth the trip up. We decided to walk back down and got caught in a torrential downpour. We huddled under Lara’s small umbrella for sometime until we decided it wasn’t getting better. So, through the rain we walked to the Wellington tattoo museum. I am not sure if you would call it a museum, but it had some good and bad pictures of very tattooed people, a good experience all in all. My brother Sean would have enjoyed it, and possibly would have had some work done. So after an incredible lunch and a relaxing evening in our hotel room, the Wellington stay was coming to an end. We only had a few days and wanted to get North of Auckland for at least one night.

So, off we went headed North with a couple of places in mind to stay. we figured two nights on the road, and the last night in the van we would be North of Auckland. On the road mountains started to come into view. Beautiful mountains that were incredible to see again after living on a flat little island in the middle of the Pacific. That night we headed to Ohakune, a small ski resort town at the base of the mountain. The area of NZ is also the carrot capital of the country. It was a great little town that reminded us of Sister’s, OR. There were little hiking trails all over the place, and we had a perfect spot set right next to a beautiful creek. We would have stayed here longer if we had the time. Oh, there was also a restaurant in town with the name “Beef and Beer”. How could we resist a place with a name like that. The service we crappy, but the food was delicious. The next day we were headed to Hamilton which I don’t have much to say about. It was essentially a stopover a little over half way to where we wanted to go the next day. I know I am leaving parts out, but I have to get on with things.

The last night in the van we stayed at a place called Pakiri Beach, about two hours North of Auckland.  This is one of those places that just feel special.  There was hardly anyone there, and so we were told we could take the best spot.  It was right on a small river that flows into the ocean right past us.  I know I have compared things in NZ to places in the NW, but this place also reminded me of a place called Whalen Island on the Oregon coast.  We relaxed on our chairs and stared out into the ocean while sipping on tasty beverages and snacking on food we would no longer have access to back in Tonga.  The day was wonderful with a nice walk up the beach and good company.  Then we saw the crazy people who think it is fun to surf in the middle of the winter.  Surfing in Hawaii is one thing, but New Zealand in the winter, now that is pretty crazy….and the waves weren’t even that good.  To each his own I guess.

Well, back to Auckland for one last night in the closet.  We did our final shopping, including loading up on chocolate (lots of it) and some good old NZ beef and lamb.  We weren’t sure about the regulations on bringing them into Tonga, but all the Tongans fill coolers with animal products when they leave NZ.  We would have bought much more if we knew there wouldn’t be a problem in customs with it.  Anyway, shopping all done, one last pub dinner, and back to pack.  I finished early, so Lara suggested that I go to the casino next door and play some blackjack.  I like to play cards, but I hate to lose money, especially when I am paid in Pa’angas.  So, I took a few bucks and found a good table.  Within an hour of playing I had too pee, and I wasn’t even drinking.  I looked down and noticed that I was about $300 up from where I had started.  I took that as a sign, cashed my chips, hit the bathroom and left with money in my pocket.  I think this is the first time in my life I have left a casino with more money than I walked in…..very proud of myself.  Also, this would pay for all the duty free shopping we would do on the way back…..

I think I am done with our NZ trip.  I missed a few things, but I probably put more than I should have in the posts.  I hope to get on and post more about what has been happening lately in Tonga.  We also have a bunch of pics that haven’t been uploaded to the new Picasa set yet either.  Keep an eye out, they should be up soon.

New Zealand – Part 2 – On the Road
August 6, 2008, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ok, we have been neglecting to finish our posting of New Zealand because of all that has been going on here in Tonga.  So, we need to catch up.

So, after our wonderful days and stocking up on food in Auckland, we went to pick up the wonderful campervan that we were to drive and sleep in for the next 11 days.  We decided that our destination for the day was to be Rotorua.  Rotorua is like the Yellowstone of New Zealand, and I was excited to see all the thermal activity.  But, before reaching the destination, we had to stop and check some things out.  Since we hadn’t planned an itinerary, we would sit down the night before, or the morning of, and decide the destination for the day.

First day on the road we had wanted to drive up the Coromandel Peninsula, but it would have been too much driving for Trent after not driving for 10 months, not too mention driving on the left side of the road…That was a little hard to get used to, but I got the hang of it after the first few hours.  So, we decided instead of driving the Coromandel Peninsula, we would stop at the base where the guide book said had great bird watching and a nice little bird blind you could sit in.  It was a beautiful day, and we were amazed at how quickly we were in rural country once we left the hustle and bustle of Auckland.  So we arrived in Thames and found the little bird blind that the book had mentioned.  Not only was there a bird blind, but a fun little train that you could ride.  We didn’t actually ride it, and later looking at the picture I was a little disappointed not to have.  Oh well, we did get to see some birds, and we were even able to identify them since there was information in the blind on all the birds you may see.  I never realized how thirsty bird watching makes you, but it does, so we headed out to find a good pub to quench our thirst before heading out again.  We found the perfect place with a nice fire roaring and a big screen tv with rugby playing (of course).  After our beverage, we only had one because we were driving (of course) we headed out to find the largest Kiwi fruit on the planet.

The Kiwi fruit of which we speak is on the Bay of Plenty where most of the kiwis are grown.  During this drive, we realized how great the roads were.  Even though they were mainly two lane roads once you left Auckland, they were amazingly maintained.  No potholes, plenty of places to pull over if you are driving too slow, and lots of places set up to pull over and eat lunch while overlooking some beautiful view.  Anyway, to get on with the story… We arrive at the visitors center for the Kiwi fruit, and sure enough, there is the biggest slice of kiwi I have ever seen…  We stroll into the visitor’s center were there is almost no one there, but it is still open.  We find that they have samples of wine and liquors made out of kiwis, and of course, kiwi fruit to sample.  Since almost no one is there, they pay special attention to us, and we leave having sampled everything at least once, and eating all the kiwi fruit samples.   Did you know there was three different kind of kiwi fruits?  Good thing we had only one beer in Thames and several hours in between our sampling frenzy, because the sun was dropping and we still wanted to get to Rotorua.

Safe and sound in Rotorua by the time the sun was fully down.  Rotorua was probably the coldest places we stayed on this trip, and after sunny, warm Tonga, it was a shock to our system.  Luckily, the holiday park we were staying in had outdoor thermal pools for its guest.   Put on a suit, grab a towel and out the van we went.  It was a great soak to end the longest day of driving we have had for over ten months.  So, we wake up to the wonderful smell of sulfur….we breath it in like it is fresh coffee brewing.  We look out the window and it looks like it has snowed, everything was white and frozen.   Luckily it was just frozen frost and it seemed like it was going to be a beautiful day.  With every piece of warm clothes on, we head out for a day of thermal activity…I was ecstatic..  The park we stayed at was right across the street from the Te Puia the gov’t run thermal area.  It was expensive and had all sorts of activities attached to the entry, and all I wanted was to see some geysers and bubbling pools…On we walked until we found what we originally set out to find, Whakarewarewa or the Living Village.  Conveniently enough, it was on the same thermal grounds at Te Puia, but it was a living Maori village and the price was half of the gov’t sponsored area.  We felt much better about paying less and having the money go to the actual Maori people who lived there.  The village was incredible, there were cooking pools that were still used by the people to cook food, and bathing pools that were used.  There were also geysers, bubbling pools, and a great cultural performance in a small venue.  The village functioned and was governed by the people who lived there, quite a nice setup.  The rest of the day we spent walking, eating and shopping.  We met a native Oregonian working at a bike shop, imagine that..Those Oregonians get around.   He also set us up with a great restaurant for lunch, and then we did a thermal walk around Lake Rotorua.  Finished up with some food shopping which became quite a fun event except that we wanted to buy everything in site, and headed back for some dinner in the van…..The next day we would be back on the road heading to the Hawkes Bay region and Chardonnay country on the East coast.

I have to stop for now, because even though I am a volunteer, I have some work to do.  I will finish up our trip later.  On a side note, it seems we have filled up all the space allowed on flickr for our photos, so I opened up an account on Picasa.  You can find the link on the left side of the page for more photos of our trip and more…  T&L

New Zealand part 1-Auckland
July 24, 2008, 12:40 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So, we just recently returned from our two week holiday in New Zealand, and it may take me a few days to blog it all because it was so wonderful.  It was essentially Lara and Trenton eating and drinking (not excessively of course) our way around the North Island of NZ.   New Zealand is quite an amazing place, it also might have been due to the fact that we have been living in a small underveloped nation for the last ten months.  We arrived at about 2 am and didn’t get settled into our conveniently located closet sized hotel room until about 3.  Fortunately, there happened to be a trucker strike, Kiwis call them “trukkies”.  So, at 7 am, we were woken by trucks driving very slow down the middle of the city honking their very loud air horns.   We were excited to get up and get eating anyway, so it wasn’t too big of a deal.  It ended up being a pretty good demonstration to oppose a road tax that would have put many truckers out of business.   

Anyway, we had already planned where we were eating breakfast and some of the things we wanted to do the first day in Auckland to plan for our upcoming road trip.  We headed out around 8, and couldn’t believe all the food!!!  There were restaurants, cafes, pubs, bakeries, and food courts everywhere.  It took us forever to make it to the restaurant we wanted to eat because of all the other savory food treats we were noticing in all the windows.  We had a wonderful breakfast of omelletes, bagels and lox and great fancy coffee.  Our vacation was really starting out on the right food foot.  Although it was a little overwhelming to see all the food, drinking, and shopping options there.

On we went to visit the Department of Conservation and the I-site in Auckland to load up on maps and other tourist information.  We soon found out and would see the whole trip that New Zealand was really set up for tourist travel.  Auckland was a very clean and efficient city that reminded us both of Seattle, WA.  Within 6 hours of walking around Auckland, we both decided that we could live in this wonderful city.   So, we loaded up on enough maps and touris information to fill a shopping bag.  We decided we had enough info to get us planning on the rest of the trip, but we still had another day and night to enjoy Auckland.

After a couple of Guinnesses (yes Guinness!!!!!) at the pub and a little relaxing after all the walking, we decided to take a harbor ferry cruise.  We thought it might be a good way to check some of the islands around Auckland out and it included a muffin and coffee!!! It was a nice little cruise and very relaxing.  Unfortunately the weather was a little like Seattle as well and so we would get rain in between the sun breaks.  Oh well, it was still great.  A wonderful day in Auckland was ended with a trip to the Turkish kebab shop and a bunch of other wonderful snacks we had picked up for dinner and a little TV watching in the closet.

So, I know I am getting a little long winded about Auckland, but I want to remember as much as I want to tell.  So, on to the next day.  Although the weather had turned a little crappy, we were determined to find a farmer’s market we had read about.  Yes, a farmer’s market in the middle of winter.  Did I mention that it was the middle of winter in NZ?  You might be able to tell by how we are dressed in some of the pictures that it was cold.  On our path to the farmers market we had talked about, we ran into another farmers market, oh boy…..let the food purchasing for the day begin!!!   It was a nice little market that we were able to buy some local honey for a friend back in Tonga.  Some local fruit, cheese, bread, nuts, etc…..  It was great, but we were to find out it was nothing like the market we originally planned on visiting.  After about an hour of walking we found our destination, a French Market (La Cigale) that put on a market every Saturday.  Both of our mouths dropped when we saw it.  There was so much food and goodies to eat or buy there.  We loaded up while munching on wonderful little snacks.  It was almost too overwhelming to recount it now that we are back in Tonga…  ha ha.  On the way back to the hotel, we found another amazing site…..Liquor world!!!  Luckily we came upon it right when a big rain started.  We figured it must have been a sign for us to go and look at it.  Alan, it was right up there with the beer museum in Ontario.  Anyway, our time in Auckland was coming to an end, and it was a great start to our holiday.  The next day we were too pick up our campervan and head out on the road….. We were pretty excited to get out and see the North Island.  I have uploaded some pictures of Auckland and the first part of our trip, and we will post more later.


Laka and Conference
June 24, 2008, 10:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

So it has been a while since I posted, and yeah, this is Toni.  Lara is a very busy person at work, so I hope no one is getting sick of hearing from me.  Anyway, there have been a couple big events here in Tonga recently that I thought would be interesting to mention.

First of all, Parliament recently opened after the recent elections here in Tonga.  Like everything else in Tonga, it was a huge event, and you could feel the anticipation in the air.  This is also a reason for many people not to go to work.  They call the opening of Parliament the “Laka”.  Laka is the Tongan word for marching or to march, and so many other things, but in this event it was the march to parliament.  So, for the opening of Parliament, all the secondary schools in Tonga participate.   Just a quick note, brass bands are very big in Tonga, and all secondary schools have brass marching bands.  Anyway, the morning of the Laka we could hear brass bands practicing and people gathering on the street to the point that we knew it was starting.  Since we live so close to the palace, our street was a waiting point for one of the schools, and all schools seemed to pass by our house at least one time.  So, we got dressed ran out to the end of the street and as far as the eye could see in almost every direction were secondary school kids marching in formation like the military with their teachers following.  I didn’t realize how many kids were actually in Tonga until this event.  It was quite amazing to see them all gather in an organized manner , not only to march, but to hear the amazing marching bands that were playing.

What I thought would be a morning affair turned into many hours.  The schools all marched, then they stopped on the side of the road in some sort of order to wait for Parliament to open.  Once the Royal family arrived with their entourage, the marching started again.  As as soon as a group approached the front of the Parliament building, they all dropped to one knee and said something in Tongan that I didn’t quite catch.  When Parliament closes, the event happens again, except that the primary students will march instead.  So anyway, it was an incredible cultural event and a good way to spend a day off.   I mean, everyone loves a parade…..don’t they?  Pictures have been posted as well.

Now, the other big event that is still going on is the Wesleyan church conference.  It is the yearly international event of the church where people come from all over the world.  They have meetings to speak about the future of the church, elect the officials, and some other stuff…..  But the real draw of the event is that there are Kaipolas (feasts) everyday.  I am not talking a little thanksgiving feast, but gigantic displays of food, and this happens four times a day during the conference.    There is a breakfast meal at 10 am, lunch at 12:00, Dinner at 5:00 pm, and finally supper at 10:00 pm.   Since there are Wesleyan churches in all the villages, each meal of the day is prepared by the members of different village churches.  Each family will prepare and provide a meal.  Funny thing is that the families who prepare the meals don’t get to sit down and eat, but just to serve and watch people eat.  It also seems like a kind of competition to see who has the best table, and food.  There are also baskets in the middle of the table that contain goodies for the guests to take home.  Usually fruit, candy, soda and other things.  These baskets are always empty by the end, and if you are lucky, you are going home with some good fruit, candy or soda.

Since we know quite a few Tongans here in Tongatapu, we were often invited to their feasts.  Of course we don’t want to upset anyone by not taking their invitation, we have attended quite a few meals.  In fact the first Thursday of the conference we attended the lunch, dinner, and supper feasts.  I was almost in tears at the last one because I didn’t think I could eat another bite.  Out of respect I put down quite a bit of food, even at the last feast of that day, and we went home with enough food to feed us for the next couple days as well.   Anyway, the feasts are still going on until Thursday of this week, and we have at least one more to  attend on Thursday.  We have posted some pictures of the conference feasts as well.