Paris? London? Milan? No!! Nuku’alofa ‘Ahopanilolo fashion extravaganza


The graduation event culminated in an evening gala fashion parade. It was unbelievably amazing and very hard to describe with mere words. Remembering Tonga is very conservative and religious, we half expected a traditional fashion parade but being an ‘Ahopanilolo gig kinda knew that anything was possible…. The evening started with fashion students parading their own designs of skimpy two piece bathing suits – so the scene was set. This was not going to be your average run of the mill fashion parade….

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The program included a few fabulous Fakaleiti (boy/girl) lip-sincing athletic dancing routines and even a rap song from Ricky the volunteer and Tevita – one of last years student. I think the images tell the story of this amazing night much easier than I could ever describe in words. A particular highlight for me was a group of Creative garments featuring cooking and cleaning equipment – showing the endless sense of humour and creativity of the fashion students… And the formal couples outfits with everything made for both  the young men and women…. Oh the talent of these students!

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2014 ‘Ahopanilolo graduation ended with emotional hugs


The graduation went for four hours but the time flew. A very joyous occasion with quite a few familiar faces and emotional hugging reunions. It was wonderful to be there and share in the success of student we and friends (Timm and Kathy) had sponsored.

Traditional ta'ovala dancing featured of course!

Traditional ta’olunga dancing featured of course!

Virginie and Cecile bookending Kotoni... Two french roses and a scottish thistle???

Virginie and Cecile bookending Kotoni… Two french roses and a Scottish thistle???

Saimone... One of our students

Saimone… One of our students

Kotoni, Saimonie and Sonia... A very proud young man

Kotoni, Saimonie and Sonia… A very proud young man

Jessica juggled family with studying to obtained her Certificate qualification

Jessica juggled family with studying to obtained her Certificate qualification

Koli, Tuli, Lisa from Fafa Island with Kotoni... Proud as!

Koli, Tuli, Lisa from Fafa Island with Kotoni… Proud as!

sr Annuncia being presented by the new Tongan Cardinal!

sr Annuncia being presented by the new Tongan Cardinal!

Hina

Hina

Tevita

Tevita

Koli and Lisa

Koli and Lisa with edible sweet and floral garlands… Maybe something for us to take on here in Australia at the next uni graduation

Sr Kieoma, Sonia and Alexio (head boy)

Sr Kieoma, Sonia and Alexio (head boy)

A cardinal mass to kick of the graduation and kaipola feasting


Sister Paolina watching the procession

Sister Paolina watching the procession in the cathedral

Money is popped on the oily bodies of the dancers or tucked into their costumes.

Money is popped on the oily bodies of the dancers or tucked into their costumes.

Sister Kieoma and the Bishop Mafi (now Cardinal) joined in a traditional seated dance

Sister Kieoma and Bishop Mafi (now Cardinal) joined in a traditional seated dance

Sonia with some of her favourite fakaleiti ex-students

Sonia with some of her favourite fakaleiti ex-students

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Kotoni with some of his students

Kotoni with some of his students

Kotoni and Ceclie the French volunteer teacher

Kotoni and Ceclie the French volunteer teacher

Sonia and Virginie the Alliance francaise volunteer

Sonia and Virginie the Alliance francaise volunteer

The pukas never look happy at kaipola feasts

The pukas ‘pigs’ never look happy at kaipola feasts

Our name sake Sotonia's sister did a ta'olunga dance

Our name sake Sotonia’s sister did a ta’olunga dance

Dancing is ALWAYS  a feature of kaipola feasts

Dancing is ALWAYS a feature of kaipola feasts

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Wednesday Day 9
A short little sun shower at breakfast was gentle and cooling as we met at a local cafe to celebrate Sarah – a volunteer’s 30th birthday. In true Tongan style we gave her a pineapple and a block of chocolate from our stash. It was then off to ‘Ahopanilolo for wardrobe consultancy before the celebratory graduation mass at the cathedral… Officiated by the then Bishop Soane Patita Paini Mafi who in January 2015 has been made a new Vatican Cardinal. He skips having to go through the ranks of  archbishop and will head straight to Roma! It is the first time Tonga has had a Cardinal. I wonder if we can have tea with him next time we are near St Peter’s! Parades, dancing, singing and a large kaipola ‘feast’ followed. What one cannot eat from the mountains of food is taken home. We refrained from the latter! The day started at 9.30 and we stumbled home about 4.00pm… It was so joyful and warm and a prelude to a week of feasting.

Keleti beach magic still holds


Monday Day 7
Returned to our little Tongan house in the suburbs. The laughter floating through the air and banging of a building going up in our ‘street’ feels so very Tongan… We are just waiting for the dogs to start barking and roosters to crow and the aural concerto of Nuku’alofa will be complete.
Everything was in order although now there appears to be no water at all… Hmmmm could be an issue… How long can palangis go without a decent wash??!!
Had dinner at Marco’s Pizza (an institution) with another volunteer who has been here working as a lawyer to establish a justice of the peace service to alleviate pressure on the legal system.
Since leaving Australia I have read four books including a funny little satire about Tonga called Tales of the Tikong by Epeli Hau’ofa which seriously takes the mickey out of everyone palangi or local.

Tuesday Day 8:

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Keleti beach

Keleti beach


Nuku’alofa has noticeably so much less street rubbish than before. We attribute this to lots of new painted wheelie bins everywhere which is a great development.

There is also a step up in tourism marketing professionalism with the visitors centre actually looking like somewhere a tourist could go to get useful information on what to do and where to go. There are huge posters and lots of lovely informative brochures about the many places to dine, see and stay.
We have also noticed a lot more signs around the roads and streets… Even some marked pedestrian crossings and a tsunami evacuaion map that suggests one should head inland?!!!!!
We did an afternoon drive which included a side trip to ‘Keleti International Beach Resort’ nothing much has changed there apart from a few new plastic red chairs… The claim it is an international resort still amuses me…. But oh the view of the beach is all one needs. The tide was huge so waves pounded over the breaking reef and the intense blue colours immediately took us back to many a pleasant afternoon spent there with friends. It truly is one of my favourite Tongan vistas.

(2nd) Honeymooning on Fafa island


Tracker Muir

Tracker Muir

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koli's banana alaska dessert

Koli’s banana Alaska dessert

image image imageWe left the car at the convent and headed to the wharf and our favourite little escape destination of Fafa island.
As a surprise we had been upgraded to the honeymoon suite…

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The honeymoon suite was so beautiful... Even for hanging washing!

The honeymoon suite was so beautiful… Even for hanging washing!

About the only fale we had NOT stayed in! It has the usual outdoor HOT (yay) showers, hammock and a kingsize mosquito-netted day bed… But there is also another large pavilion with an ultra kingsized day bed netted again that opens onto a verandah. Very luxuriant.

Outdoor shower

Outdoor shower

Everything is so dry. There is virtually no grass/ground cover and many of the trees look stressed or in the process of shutting down.

Plants are looking very stressed as rain is needed

Plants are looking very stressed as rain is needed

imageThe managers said that without the desalination plant going 7-8hrs a day the resort would have had to be closed. We had never seen it so dry and heard that Tonga was actually drought declared. The only positive from such dryness is there is virtually no mosquitoes and no humidity. It doesn’t feel like the pacific summer we remembered at all.
Tristan and Amanda (from Australian High Commission) were staying the night too so we had a game of scrabble with them over cocktails the then walked along the beach to watch the sunset from the western side of the island.
Dinner was divine sitting outside in the breeze. Koli – the Tongan chef we knew from before, gave us complimentary entrees and desserts which we couldn’t quite manage to fit in. I had divine snapper fish on pineapple and coconut couscous and Gordon happily devoured his melt in your mouth NZ lamb. One entree was rare roast beef with a tuna sauce… Sounds weird I know but it actually tasted surprisingly good! Dessert was two huge creme brûlées… We took one home to eat tomorrow…
The evening was inky black but being low tide we torched our way back to our fale along the beach under the star spangled sky re-living so many memories shared here with friends and family.

Once you arrive on Fafa the shoes are off for the duration of your stay! :-)

Once you arrive on Fafa the shoes are off for the duration of your stay! :-)

Day 5 Saturday and 6 Sunday on Fafa island = Swimming, snorkelling and reading
What an indulgence… Fafa is as beautiful as ever surrounded by azure seas and cobalt skies. Koli fed us each night with lots of extras. One night it was a fresh prawn and mango salad to die for followed by fresh grilled tuna on risotto and flambé bananas which didn’t flare because of the breeze… Life can be so tough even in paradise! Next night snapper and potato salad, marinated octopus and a Tongan version of bombe Alaska. We waddled home along the beach both nights.

2014 in review: wordpress stats (despite no activity since March!)


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,200 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Shipwreak fireworks & Atu’s wedding


Wednesday Day 2 shipwreck fireworks
Slept in with jetlag then headed to Cafe Escape for brunch and to see if we could get some wifi … At least to send an email some things never change…

More catching up and long chats with past and present volunteers and Tongan friends before dinner with Amanda and Tristan from the Australian High Commission … We house-sat for them on a couple of occasions when we were living here which was bliss… A car, hot water, TV/DVD, aircon and a stove with a temperature gauge… The little/big things that can make life in tropical developing Tonga so much more comfortable. Monique another lovely Aussie volunteer joined us.

Alfreco dinner at Little Italy restaurant. It is not as steamy hot as we recalled this time last year probably because of drought. There are also virtually no mozzies which is good news for my chikungunya afflicted husband.
Dinner was punctuated by a glorious spray of fireworks from a wreck a little off shore. (Thanks Jarrod another crazy volunteer who camps out there periodically!)

Atu anf Fine exchange vows

Atu and Fine exchange vows

Atuand her Daf

Atu and her Dad enter the church

Fine in church waiting fir Atu to arrive

Fine in church waiting for Atu to arrive… A last minute adjustment to the ceremonial matting…

Thursday Day 3: Fine & Atu’s wedding day
Up early for a scrub. Luckily I was first as the water ran out so Kotoni had to do a flick wash. Off to Saane’s to get Kotoni dressed in a tao’vala so he would look the part for the wedding. I had brought my kia kia and a Tongan dress my friend Sally had bought in Surfers Paradise so all set!

Our landlady gets Kotoni fitted up for the wedding

Our landlady gets Kotoni fitted up for the wedding

After a few phone calls we found out where the wedding was to be held and the start time… This is usual for Tonga… Nothing final until the last minute.
Popped in to see KOtoni’s girlfriends (nuns) at the convent before Maletina (Deputy of ATI) escorted us to where the wedding mass was to be held in a small community church not far from where we lived in Pili last year.

The ‘Ahopanilolo staff and students are in a frenzy getting ready for the celebrations next week so we were the only ones available to go to the wedding and thus represented the school.

Nia painting a tapa ready for the celebrations

Teacher Nia painting a tapa ready for the celebrations

A young girl (we think Atu’s niece) sang Ave Maria really softly as the bride walked up the aisle. we were the only palangis (non Tongans) there.
The service included a lengthy lecture by the priest about marriage… Even though 99% was in Tongan we easily certainly got the drift.
Everyone was so impressed with Kotoni looking ever so Tongan.
The rain came tumbling down and provided a gentle percussive sound to the main event. Because it has been so dry everyone will be welcoming the rain… Although we would prefer it to fine up tomorrow when we head to Fafa Island for our three night stay… We shall just have to pray a little harder today but I fear we are up against all of Tonga praying for precious precipitation to water the crops and gardens… Plus fill their house water tanks as many have completely run out.
The wedding ceremony was followed by the usual catholic communion punctuated by the glorious choir.
It was a small affair of maybe 100 adults and children.
I do love watching the choir master lead the singing… A few of the flock were obviously not following his lead by the eyebrow raising and stern glances flicked to the blokes at the back. Not happy Jan.
Back to school to pick up a couple of teachers who were also essential to navigate us to the wedding kai pola (feast)… There were about 150 guests and we were asked to sit at the main table with Fine and Atu. This happened a lot last year… Makes you feel like the king and queen of Tonga!

Atu in her wedding kai pola gear

Atu in her wedding kai pola gear. Her kia kia is very colourful and fancy!

Wedding feast with carved watermelons

Wedding feast with carved watermelons and small mountains of food. What isn’t eaten at the event is taken home by guests.

Lobster and an array of beautiful food... No expense spared for the wedding 'high table'

Lobster, prawns, mussels and an array of beautiful food… No expense spared for the wedding ‘high table’

Dancing is always a feature of Tongan celebrations and the rain was not a deterrent AT ALL!

Dancing is always a feature of Tongan celebrations and the rain was not a deterrent AT ALL! The tables wer piled high with food (so very normal for Tonga!)

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The food before us included carved watermelons, lobsters, fish, prawns, mussels, five pigs and endless other dishes. It was a beautiful spread washed down with orange cordial.
Speeches and dances flowed throughout the afternoon and we headed for home at about 3.00pm.

A wedding guest!!! Times are a changing!!

A wedding guest!!! Times are a changing!!

The Laughing Samoans you tube sensation - pacific comedy duet

The Laughing Samoans you tube sensation – pacific comedy duet


In the evening went to the Laughing Samoans comedy act … Queen Salote school hall was going off… We estimated 2000 people hanging out for a good belly laugh… and Tongans do love a giggle about anything and everything.
To start the event we had a prayer. God’s presence is always acknowledged and gradually most people bowed their head and closed their eyes and mouths!
A couple of funny bits that stood out:
The two comedians played various characters and often talked about biblical things. One joke focused on trying to think of miracles. Through their discussion they questioned the miracle of Jesus feeding 5000 people with loaves and fishes. They decided it wasn’t really a great miracle because the crowd were palangi (westerners) …if Jesus had been feeding 5000 big appetite Tongans than that would have been a real miracle!!!
Or the travel skit:
Hello what are you doing here?
Waiting for flight from Tonga to pick up my cousin.
I see it is late again.
Yes… It was due last week! ( a sad but true reflection on the often unreliable transport system). The evening was a fund raiser for children with life threatening illnesses.